A short but true story…
In 2005, my baby brother, Mark, moved to Alabama with his son. Mark was determined to raise his son on his own and make a living with his hands and his wits. How he ended up in Phenix, AL is a much longer story.
Mark eventually found work at a metal fabrication shop as a welder. He quickly made friends with his co-workers (who were exclusively black), as well as his supervisors (who were exclusively white).
Everybody loved Mark. It was his special super power. He was also as big as a grizzly bear. Nobody screwed with him.
For three years, Mark squeaked by on $10/hour, supplementing his income as the manager of his trailer park. He collected a menagerie of unwanted or wounded dogs and cats. Mark simply could not say “no” to the vulnerable fuzzy things of the world. Unfortunately, buying food for everyone put his accounts in the red every month.
My wife, Melissa, would make sure that well-timed money, clothing and food arrived. I called the local Piggly Wiggly and became friendly with the manager. I opened an account there and put money in it.
However, Mark was proud. He really wanted to be independent. He hinted to his boss that he needed a raise and access to the company healthcare plan. At that point, Mark had developed a very large hernia that protruded from his belly button, and he clearly needed surgery.
Eventually, Mark’s boss came to him.
Boss Man: “We really like you here.”
Mark: “Thanks. I like it, too. Plus, it’s nice to be able to buy food!”
Boss Man: “You know, I know you’re not from here, but I think you need to know that, if you want to move up, you can’t be having lunch with them anymore[pointing to Mark’s black co-workers].”
Mark: “Thanks for letting me know.”
Mark went to one of his black co-workers and told him what just transpired. The co-worker shrugged, and said, “That’s how things work here. I won’t take it personally. You’d be a good boss.”
Before Mark went home that night, he stopped at Walmart and picked up a year’s supply of brown bags.
Mark never stopped eating with his co-workers. He was never promoted. He never received a raise. Mark’s hernia remained untreated.
After a few years, the same co-worker in whom Mark confided said, “I’m sorry. I guess you just a n*****r like us.” Mark shrugged and said, “It’s fine with me.”
They went back to work in the fumes and the sweat.
And Mark’s loving soul remained intact. When I buried him in April, he still had the hernia.
P.S. This is the soundtrack of my grief for Mark. He was a better person than I was…in every way that mattered.