When I Was Seventeen



When I was seventeen. It was a very good year. It was a very good year for small town girls And soft summer nights. We’d hide from the lights. On the village green. When I was seventeen.

So reads the lyrics of the first of four stanzas from the song originally sung by Frank Sinatra. I like the Sinatra’s version but it was the Willie Nelson and Ray Charles rendition that nailed this song for me. So many times at work where I was employed by the public, I would encounter teenagers with all their youth and vigor and I had to remind them I “one time” I had been young, had hair on my head and did not wear eye glasses to help me see. Yes at “one time” I too had been seventeen.

When I was 17

When I was 17

I remember the small town girls and yes I thought “I” was the center of “their” world as we all evolved from Cowboys to Girls as one song writer said. I remember the soft summer nights as our little gang walked the streets. Later one of the guys was able to borrow his brother “deuce and a quarter” a pretty red Buick Electra 225 convertible. But most of the time there was not a car and most of our summer nights we spent walking the street or hanging out on the corner. There were no drive- bye (shootings) only drive-in’s (out door theaters). Our “village green” was a corner were there were plenty of plum trees. Not old enough to purchase liquor on our own, we would have this guy name “Cat” to buy our fifth of wine (Sweet Rosie O’Grady). His name was “Cat” for a reason as he worn his hair in a conk (process) which mostly he kept under raps so the curls and waves would stay in place. Cat sung doo-wop and was part of a group that hope one day to make it big, maybe to Motown, a dream that never materialized. Anyway Cat would have the first “hit” from the bottle and needless to say his one hit usually ended up drinking up most of the wine. My three friends and I would have to share the wine that was left as we “hide from the lights On the village green. When I was seventeen.”

Being born black does not mean all your friends and love ones are black. Not too long ago my wife and I was having breakfast at Cracker Barrel. I noticed in the next room all these guys and some ladies wearing coats and jackets that clearly announced they were part of law enforcement, and not only police but special under cover police at that. I got up from our table and went into the next room where I observed three tables buttress together were most of the law enforcement officers were sitting.  One senior Caucasian officer was sitting at the head of one of the tables. I walked over to the guy “standing over him” with all the eyes upon me and I said to him.” You are ugly!” While still sitting and with the other officers observing and listening, he respond “Not as ugly as You.” We both smiled as the staged tension (on our part) disappeared. He got up from his chair and extended his hand towards me for a hand shake and a partial hug.

This was Gary. Gary and I graduated “three times” together. Once from jr. high school, once from high school and the third time from basic training in Columbus, GA. After finishing basic training the army sends you off for Advance Infrantry Training or AIT. Back in the late sixty’s your AIT duty station basically signal where you were headed. I went to Baltimore, MD and later to Germany and Gary went to Vietnam. After Vietnam Gary started his years of service in law enforcement and this “wimpy meek and mild” kid at seventeen developed an exterior that seldom smiled and was always serious. When asked about their boss they all nodded saying he was a “good supervisor.”  I could tell that all  the officers were highly “protective” of him.

When I was 21

When I was 21

Gary later came to our table and met my wife and said how sorry he was for “her.” We talked about another friend and Gary informed me this high school friend was suffering from PTSD. He also had went to Vietnam. As “we” looked each other over and continued our conversation I talk about my “hair” missing and Gary talked about his full head of hair turning all white. “At least you got some hair.” I responded, pointing to his belly that was beginning to protrude over his belt line like mines. I always reminded Gary of the one case we worked together where I knew I would be the “first” one shot as Gary and his co-worker and fellow detective, Terry assisted me. Gary and Terry were the good cop bad cop duo and both were outstanding detectives, but heck I am a little prejudice but it is true. Anyway the person of interest “boasted” about being able to shoot the bulls-eye from 500 yards away. This day, I was riding with Gary and Terry and the person of interest arrived at the house before “we” did. Thanks be to God all three of us lived through the experience but that’s a story for another day.

There are some words of truth I wish I had learned when I was seventeen and I will leave a few for the young at heart, the teenagers like we were once who may think they know everything. There was a wise old King who said, remember thy creator (Eccl.12:1) in the days of your youth. This same wise King pinned the Book of Proverbs that should have been “required” reading before leaving high school, especially the first three Proverbs. Then the WORD also says that Man born of a woman is a few days (Job 14:1) and full of trouble.  The wise king tell the youth to enjoys yourself, have a good time but there is a time to be born and a time to die (Eccl.3:1). I never knew about the Sampson Syndrome, the Biblical Playboy who saw what he wanted and got what he saw… at a price.

When I was twenty-one It was a very good year. It was a very good year for city girl Who lived up the stair With all that perfumed hair And it came undone When I was twenty-one. Next Time…Hmmm.



No Greater Love…

Enrique (left) and Federico after their morning coffee.

Enrique (left) and Federico after their morning coffee.

Imagine someone who has adopted you and placed you into the center of their life. Imagine someone who has no kinship to you or your love ones but you can depend upon that person to take better care of you and your loved one like no else and stick closer to you than a brother. You can not pay for his service or love. You can not pay for his devotion and his willingness to do all the things that you can not do and yet you know “all is well” because of this angel of God. Meet Federico.

I met Federico during my first trip to the Republic of Panama. I was blessed to accompany a friend and brother of mines to his “mother land” who served as my tour guide, protector and interpreterIMG_0688 for the experience. Enrique explained how his Uncle Theophilus had been hospitalized and one of his presenting illness affected his memory where he did not recognize anyone but Federico . The uncle would not take his medicine nor eat unless it came through the hands of Federico. So Federico would go to the hospital everyday to met the needs of Uncle Theophilus until the day Uncle Theophilus died. Federico worked for a land developer and met Uncle Theophilus when he was looking for land to build his home on. Now an American citizen, Uncle Theophilus was making plans to return back to Panama one day and was looking for the right place to build. Federico was involved with those plans while the plot of land was being secured and before, during and after construction of this modest three bedroom home with two bathrooms and a patio-garage. An unattached smaller house was built in the back that serves as Federico’s private residence.

No, Uncle Theophilus is not my real or blood uncle, nor is his wife, Mrs. Florence, who is 85 years young. Federico now cares for her like he did with Uncle Theophilus. Federico is from a province of the interior of Panama and is a “handy man” around the house. Anything needs fixing or repairing he can handle, and if he can not he will find someone in the community to take care of the job and make everything alright. Uncle Theophilus and Aunt Florence immigrated to Brooklyn, New York where they both became US citizens. Uncle Theophilus, a skilled electrician before arriving in America, completed his education and training becoming a journeyman electrical engineer, a job he later retired from. Aunt Florence retired from working at  King’s County Community Hospital. Uncle Theophilus always saved his income and made plans to return home back to Panama. Like so many hardworking men with future dreams and plans he also worked on the side doing electrical jobs in the communities of Brooklyn and Queens, New York when not on his regular job. So when he purchased the  land and built a home it was Federico who provided assistance from the beginning to the end. But Uncle Theophilus and Aunt Florence are stories for “another day.” Aunt Florence basically adopted me and treated me like one of her nephews hence my adoption in my “mind and heart”. When I first met Federico, Aunt Florence was state side, visiting with her children in Washington D.C and New York, but back to Federico.

Up at five every morning, Federico hits the shower and then puts on the coffee, strong coffee I might add. Aunt Florence is up after the coffee has finished brewing and Federico places the eye drops in her eyes. During her office visit with her doctor, Aunt Florence had to make her next six month appointment. She told the doctor she had to check her calendar as she had plans to get “married” and did not want to have a “scheduling conflict”. Aunt Florence’s up beat disposition with the doctor and the staff have made her a celebrity during her office visits as she never complain while she struggle with her own illnesses .”Did you ever?” is one of her favorite sayings, a question that she half asks and allows you to fill in the banks.

Federico goes through his daily routine of getting the trash together and setting it out for the pick up. It is mid March and reportedly the rainy season in Panama. I slept well last night as the trade winds at night allow you to avoid the use of the air condition. After noon is a different story as the temperature reaches 90 degrees or higher. It is very dry and the grass is brown, as Federico gets out the water hose, washes down the patio- garage and water the beautiful cactus plants and flowers outsides of the decorative rout irons enclosure in front of the house. Federico leaves the home before 7:00 am having  no car, or bike, but heads out to work. With no 9-5 job, he is such a dependable worker he encounters no problem finding work like roofing, dry walling, laying down tile you name it. He will not return until after five pm.

“Buenos Dias” I speak out softly to Federico. “Como esta” as I struggle with my limited Espanol in my attempt to say good morning and how are You? Federico, who starts off his morning with meditation respond, as always, “Gracious a Dios” meaning Thanks to God. Federico has promised to learn English and I promised to do better in my effort to learn Spanish.

I met Federico again back in January 2014. This time he has been blessed with obtaining a car. I returned to Panama after a wonderful lady named Eneida,85 years young also, promised she would not have any peace until I returned with my wife. Enada is also a story for another day. It was during this visit that I observed how well Federico met the needs of Aunt Florence. From daily trips to the grocery store, the cleaners and his regular chores Aunt Florence adult children back in Washington D.C. and New York do not have to worry about their mom and the level of care she receives. The smile, the sweet spirit and the love that Federico still gives after years and years of unselfish service and humility is more than enough to know and trust that all is well with Aunt Florence. Truly No Greater Love…