Fountain: I remember how it was on the West Side

SHARE Fountain: I remember how it was on the West Side
SHARE Fountain: I remember how it was on the West Side

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I remember. The mice. The roaches. The poverty. I remember coming home from elementary school to the darkness that filled our West Side apartment because Mama had been unable to pay the electric bill.

I remember the mornings when there was no hot water because our gas had been disconnected — and yet being fortunate sometimes that our electricity was not simultaneously shut off. We could warm ourselves near the electric space heater. At least heat up a pot of water on the hot plate for wash-ups before school on those frigid winter mornings when exhaust poured from our mouths.

I remember the shame. The holes in my shoes. How I sometimes filled them with newspaper or cardboard. The times when I planted my feet beneath the desk at school or the pew at church, lest someone discover the secret of my soles.

I remember the sweet scent of Mama’s garlic fried potato patties for dinner when that was all we had.

After all these years, I still remember.


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I remember sitting in a circle in my 8th grade class during story time, reading aloud the tales we had written while munching on hand-sized butter cookies that our teacher allowed us to buy before lunch period. But I seldom was able to afford the 5-cent cookie. So I simply read and secretly envied my friends.

I remember the father who, by age 4, had deserted us. The days I sat on our front porch, dreaming that one day a car would pull up and a man would climb out, and that man would be my daddy. I remember the day I stood at 18, over his casket in Evergreen, Ala., for a posthumous reunion.

I remember all the times I felt like no-man’s son. The longing — as a boy, as a teenager, as a young man-for my father. I remember feeling insufficient, inept, unworthy.

I remember wondering if I would be murdered in the ‘hood. Remember being married as a young man with no education, three children to feed, and the sight of their toes corned because I was unable to buy new shoes.

The reality that if I suddenly died I would have nothing to leave them. No insurance. No inheritance. Nothing.

I remember being on welfare for a time. Visiting the Salvation Army. Dreaming of a good life but with no blueprint on how to build one. Vowing to be a better man, a better father, than my own.

I remember the bitterness, the tears, sorrow and self-doubt. The time when I would rather die than live.

I remember feeling like maybe I was too poor, too black, and too hopeless to overcome being dealt this hand called, “life on the other side of the tracks,” where pathologies were plenteous and pathways for success less glaring.

I remember declaring aloud, “Lord, if you help me to make it, if you deliver me, I will never be ashamed to say where I came from.”

Over the years, I have found reasons to periodically take inventory of my journey. To recall past hurts and hurdles, and more importantly, my triumph over them.

To remind myself of how far I have come. To declare to others what is possible when we believe, work, plan and dream-even against all odds.

To remind myself, even when the latest challenge leads me to think otherwise, of all the reasons I — we — truly have to be grateful.

To remind me that life is a canvass and that the picture hasn’t always been this good. It is a lesson I can never afford to forget.

I remember.

Follow John Fountain on Twitter: @JohnWFountain


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