My father’s dad died when he was eight years old leaving his mother, my Big Mama, to care for him and his five older sisters. Even though I never got to meet that grandfather, if my father was anything like him, it’s a good legacy to pass on. I have never seen a picture or heard others talk of him. We called my father “Daddy”; his co-workers called him “Hoppy”. We learned that he was a hard working guy who rescued our mom from a bad family situation. Suffice it to say she wasn’t my grandmother’s favorite.
My father’s sisters loved him, as did my brother and two sisters. He was a gentle giant to us (6 feet, 200+ pounds), who often told us of his Oklahoma exploits in fights with young guys, some White and some Black. We never heard of a loss. Daddy worked as an auto detail man, washing and polishing cars . His greatest opportunity came when the automobile dealer he worked for made a decision to move to California after the Oklahoma Dust Bowl had essentially destroyed his business.
Each employee was given the choice to stay in Oklahoma or go to California with the company. Daddy chose to move to California and life changed for the Hopkins family. Somehow, we moved into our own house, in a racially integrated neighborhood. We were moving on up! I remember waking up to Buster Brown on the radio.
We went to an integrated school and faced daily calls of racist names. But, Daddy taught us to fight, which I did. We could walk to school and walk to church. Daddy was treated badly at work but he worked and with side hustle. Mama started her own business and Daddy wanted his own brick and mortar business. He started what he thought would be his own business; however, the ‘boss man“ from the automobile dealership went to the landlord, told them he would pay to raise the rent so Daddy wouldn’t be able to afford it. Daddy was so devastated by the raised rent that he was forced to go back to work at his old job. On the side, he continued to polish cars for individuals and began buying old cars, which he would shine and sell for a profit.
Our family bought a house, which was the pride of Bakersfield; we lived happily until Daddy passed away, after fifty-one years of marriage to Momma. Daddy did better than okay; we lived on a block with the town’s only Black doctor and only Black dentist. Three of us children earned college degrees. They slowed Hoppy down but could not stop him. I have written the following poem in his honor...
No Law Degree no Ph.D.; no lynching tree but you gave us a way to be free.
We moved out of the South, where life was harder than bricks;
you cared for us and took the licks.
While we enjoyed life without the sting of the stones and names;
you taught us to survive and we thrived in the California sun where we came.
We avoided the pain of being openly second-class;
and, avoided the pain of hard looks when we passed.
You took care of Mama and she took care of us.
Together, the two of you were tough.
California was not always the easy life it was supposed to be;
but it was not the South, where we were no more than a tree.
Nevertheless, we were free.
No trail of tears or Southern fears because we could defend ourselves.
Our dreams came true; we survived the pain and we moved away
to seek out our gains.
We got the Ph.Ds. and the Law degrees while we avoided the lynching tree and you got the glory.
I can see you smile as you count the honors your grands and great-grands brought to you,
and we can shout out loud that we sll made you proud!
Thank-you, Daddy, for teaching us what a father should be.
Your son, Joe