“Hey Bossman”

As hard as it is growing up in this world for teens now, it has to be so much harder for the black youth, especially in any of the large urban areas.

I often think back to a half dozen black kids I befriended in the Oak Cliff in the early 90’s while doing a job there. I’ve written before about them, Freddy, Herman, Terry and the others names escape me just now.

I would load them up in my suburban, after checking with their mother, grandmother or other guardian, (always a female – never remember even one of them having a male living in the household) we would head across the Trinity River to the north side into downtown Dallas. We would go to the West End District to eat BBQ, that was our favorite food. It was so much fun watching them marvel at all the varieties of food and the abundance when we’d order. I’d let them get whatever they wanted. They always got more than they could eat, so they’d have some to take back to momma.

Risky’s BBQ was where we all liked to go. What I best recall is how well behaved they were when they got to the restaurant. They would tell me they’d never eaten in a real restaurant before.

It amazes me looking back, that those women let their children drive off with me, a middle aged white guy. I became well known in the projects where this group of boys all lived. They all called me “Bossman”. Our jobsite office was about a block from the big ghetto apartment complex where “they stayed”. No one lived there, they stayed there. I hired various ones to sweep the office, take out the trash, or be the night watchman.

When it was time for a trip over into Dallas or sometimes up the street a mile or so to McDonald’s for an ice cream cone, I’d go to each of their front doors and ask permission for them to go. I was “Bossman” to the momma’s and grannie’s too. I don’t think I ever met a more welcoming group of people, nor do I remember ever being turned down on any of the kids going with me.

A few years passed, about a decade later and I went back to the neighborhood. I could never locate even one of my little friends. Everyone eyed me with trepidation. I no longer felt it was the welcoming place it once was. The times had changed. I can’t imagine that any of the half dozen or so of the regulars have been able to find much direction in their lives. The odds were against them.

The last time I ever saw any of them was at Memorial Stadium in Austin a year or so after I left there. One of their teachers called me (I guess one of the boys still had my number and had told her about Bossman) to tell me that Terry and Herman were competing in the Special Olympics. That was my only time to go to that event, but a day I wouldn’t soon forget.

Another of my really good memories was our son Ron’s 9th birthday party that we held in a nearby park. Madeline and the boys came up to spend time with me during that out of town job. I had told all the kids to come and bring friends. Those kids came from every direction, many I’d never seen before. Madeline had bought a big cake and plenty of ice cream for all. It was a party our family talked about for years.

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