Sometimes One Man Can Make A Difference

Mr. Legrand

Whatever there is that shucks down upon us fortune,
out of a cloud bank,
a sort of seed-com, –let’s give it thanks.
Nothing ordained
it would pluck Mr. Legrand out of life’s vicious lottery
to be his pit-boss
in the tin mine at which they toiled.

Still, it happened.
It’s what’s called a mysterious choice.
They’d have laughed at such a cringing
after dumbbell destiny.
Neither believe there was anyone
watching from above, to harmonize it all.

It was spooky, though,
to catch Mr. Legrand’s eye
roving about that clattering newsroom
somehow on guard for them all.
A monitor or self appointed sentinel making sure
that what went hobbling past,
wrong-headed, hateful, murderous, pitiful, grim–
should receive a minute gentle prod
in a sort of hopeful direction–
–that what was going to happen anyway,
might be snookered off, perhaps hurried back,–
before it could drag anyone
under their times’ vicious, Kali-like wheels.

That decade, the South
was shooting craps for its soul.

Safer to live in quiet corners,
shape and spell what happened,
plumb that asshole of sentiment called politics,
and roost out the daily quotas of hunger, misery, loss,
–human nature growling at its bone–,
But through it all,
there sat Mr. Legrand, handsome, kind,
cross-grained,
like all of them, a little mad, displaying the talisman,
the shining conceit, called decency.

As though in the midst of killing, bombing, beating,
burning, whatever fiercely tried bitterly
to force them all to swallow death,
might somehow be forced to lighten up,
if shamed by a single decent, civil, face.

© 2020 by Andrew Glaze, previously unpublished.

I’m not sure when my father first began working on this poem. It is possible that Duard Legrand’s death in 1978, at the age of 63, got him started. It may have come sometime after 2002 when my father re-established residence in Birmingham, or it may have been inspired by the final edition of the Birmingham Post Herald on September 23rd, in 2005..

The staff at the Birmingham Post Herald must have been a singularly idealistic bunch. Most of them were young and hungry to out-scoop stories from their larger competitor the Birmingham News. They doggedly shone a light on the early 1950’s protests of the Civil Rights Movement, and came in direct conflict with Bull Connor, the cities brutal Police Commissioner, as well as the Klu Klux Klan and MOB members.  In the mid-50’s, my father happened to witness police beating a Black demonstrator and testified in court about it. Afterwards, due to safety concerns, he was transferred from his beat at the Birmingham courthouse to the Arts and Entertainment department of the newspaper. His testimony was later mentioned in the book, Speak Truth to Power: the story of Charles Patrick, a Civil Rights Pioneer.  Years later, my father’s two year assignment as the reporter for the Birmingham Courthouse beat became the basis for the poem, “I Am The Jefferson County Courthouse”.

Clark Stallworth was one of my father’s coworkers and a friend. When the  Birmingham Post Herald had its final edition in 2005, Stallworth was invited to reminisce along with other recent and former staff members. He described a moment in the early 1940’s, when “Two Klansmen attacked me, and I remember the sound of the hammer as it whistled past my head. But I boarded a handy Greyhound bus and got away.  Later, at a night Klan meeting in Warrior, I remember the bitter taste of fear as I was surrounded by hooded men with rifles and shotguns.  One of them was Robert Chambliss, who later blew up Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, killing four little girls. I got out of that one, too.”  By 1954 Stallworth was busy following leads on gangsters who killed an aspiring attorney general

But the biggest news story came in May of 1961. That was the year a staff photographer named Tommy Langston captured a single photo of unmasked Klu Klux Klan members beating up a Freedom Rider who had just arrived on a Trailways bus. As soon as the camera flash went off, the crowd turned on him as well. He later said, “I had a Minolta around my neck, and they grabbed the strap and nearly choked me to death. I just hit the ground and tried to cover my face. I think one of them was swinging a chain, because it caught me right across the face and broke my glasses. Then they started kicking me in the ribs. I don’t know if they thought I was dead, but finally they stopped.”  In the melee they also broke the lens for his main Rolleiflex camera, but the film in it remained undamaged. His single photo was quickly shared by newspapers and TV stations around the world. Not only did it help the FBI identify members of the assault group, including one who turned out to be a secret informant, but it embarrassed the hell out of several Birmingham businessman visiting Japan for a Rotary Convention.  A few months after they arrived home, Bull Connor’s reign of terror ended when he was fired.

The Birmingham Post Herald also became known for hiring young reporters just out of college and serving as a launching pad. My father’s colleague Larry Fiquette went on to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Howell Raines ran The New York Times for a while as Senior Editor, and Martin Waldron, became the Southern correspondent for The New York Times. One of the Black reporters that Legrand hired was Harold Jackson. Straight out of college, “I went to the Birmingham News and they told me I wasn’t ready. I went to the Birmingham Post-Herald and (then-editor) Duard LeGrand said “l’ll give you a chance,'” In 1991 Jackson won a Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Writing at the Philadelphia Inquirer.

In 2005, when the newspaper finally ended its 84-year run, former reporters wrote loving paragraphs about their time there for the final issue:
“Inspired by Editor Duard LeGrand, the Post-Herald became a consistent advocate for civil rights”. 
“We were always the fun paper; we were never the paper of record. We were the paper that would take chances and take courageous stands.”

In 1978, when Duard Legrand died at the age of 63, the Birmingham Public Library actually sponsored a full book biographical tribute to him titled, A Singular Presence, Duard Legrand Newspaperman, by Ruth Bradbury Lamonte.

About Legrand, Clark Stallworth later wrote, “Duard was the best boss anyone ever had”. After reading my father’s poem, I’m pretty sure you’ll agree that my father must have felt the same way.

—E. Glaze. 

To learn more about Tommy Langston’s confrontation with the KKK and see his famous photo visit:
https://www.al.com/living/2013/11/photographer_was_man_of_a_thou.html


Birmingham Post Herald Press Photo of Andrew Glaze during his days as a  reporter for the paper.  Circa early 1950’s, by a staff photographer.
Photo property of the Andrew Glaze Estate.

Dog Dancing

Big Fred Carey hobbled over to me last night
in a dream, giving his heart-sworn thunderous grin,
reminding me how he’d once paid twenty a week,
as I pumped gas from a Pure Oil station in Mountain Brook—
and how one time an old man parked his busted pickup
next, on the grass, some strange kind of lank fellow,
whose beard was dirty, who’s eye was witty,
whose truck was square at the back
closed off with a delicate netting of wire.

When he’d gotten a sack of day-old buns and rolls
from the bake shop down the street,
he opened the veiled doors behind and called out a company
of trim little dogs like grasshopper children,
fox terriers and kindred mongrels on spindly legs.
He watched them shake themselves,
then cranked his old Victrola.
Hearing its stately scratches, the dogs began to dance.

What a strange sight, to see those dozen dogs
gravely turning about in slow pirouettes, hopping,
spinning in schottisches, somersaulting over their heads.
The old man stood there, watching,
slowly nodding, bidding them persevere
with squashed bits of stale bakery trash.
They silently waited with anxious fortitude
and gnawed crumbs in the wings like refugees.

On a tiny lady dog he strapped a pink skirt.
She treadled beneath the ruffles.
While the needle squeaked a bagpipe wail,
she did a slow and mystic spin
with paws upraised and eyes in a heavenly transit,
turning and hopping, mincing her toes below.
When she’d done her turn, she took the old man’s tambourine
between her teeth and grandly made the ring
of those who watched, and took their nickels and dimes.

I saw the thought fester in Big Fred’s eyes,
that this old man, who should be safe somewhere,
sucking his pipe, reading the weather–-
he and his dogs were out on the whim of the world.
“One morning he’ll wake up dead” he said, whisking his hands.
“I mean, all right for him, he won’t know any better,
but what about the dogs?”
What was there I could say that he would believe,
and what did I know about the demands of art?

© 1991 by Andrew Glaze, from the book Fantasy Street.
In 2003, the poem appeared in the anthology The Remembered Gate: Memoirs by Alabama Writers.
In 1985, an earlier version of the poem appeared in Earth That Sings.

The poem was autobiographical of course, like many of my father’s poems.

In 1985 he wrote, “The third job I ever had, just after college, can be considered the conclusion of my growing up in Alabama, because after that, I went off to the army and came back at least officially, an adult.

Jobs can’t be measured in salary. This was one of the best I ever had, pumping gas at the Pure Oil Station in Mountain Brook. My copy of James Joyce’s Ulysses still has brown oil stains on it from those days, in addition to the chewed marks on the cover and the edges administered by a rabbit that belonged to my first wife.

If I ask myself why it was such a gold embossed job, I am honestly at a loss to say, except that it was fun, and I got to know a rich joy loving character like Fred Carey. I also found out how unevenhandedly life repays decency and character. He died at age 43, leaving an infant child and a young wife. I also remember Willie, the emaciated looking mechanic, who waited around every Friday for “the eagle to fly” and whose iron arms made our customers habitual because no other mechanic was strong enough to undo his bolts.”

 In 2003, for an anthology titled, The Remembered Gate, he added, “…World War ll interrupted all that. I joined the Air Force. Waiting to be called, I pumped gas from a filling station in Mountain Brook. Between customers, I’d struggle through Joyce’s Ulysses.  My ancient copy still has oil stains on it. One day, an old pickup truck parked nearby and the even older man who drove it called out a little army of tiny dogs who performed dances. Many years later, it came back to me for my poem “Dog Dancing.”

In 2015, this poem was one of three featured at the induction ceremony for the first annual Alabama Writer’s Hall of Fame. Read aloud by a local actor, it was a favorite of the audience. My father was one of the new inductees and was very pleased with the performance.

 After I was born, our full sized pet white rabbit was my babyhood partner in crime. I would crawl past the lower shelves of our family bookcase, pull the books down, draw in them with a crayon, and leave them for “Bunny” to nibble on. Apparently my father’s already oil stained copy of Ulysses was a target of our efforts.

Pure Oil was founded in 1914, and eventually purchased by what is now Union Oil in California. Mountain Brook is still a wealthy suburb of Birmingham. In those days, gas stations often had their workers wear a uniform and made great efforts to look chic.  Attendants not only pumped your gas, but cleaned your car windows. The postcard below is an example of a Pure Oil gas station in Ohio from the same time period.

For those of you who are too young to know what a “hand cranked Victrola” was, it was a “phonograph”/ record player. Originally they came with a hand crank that allowed the user to wind them, like a watch or music box, to play music for a limited period of time. Initially expensive and built into self standing wooden cabinets, less expensive portable versions became available as they became more popular.  The photo below is probably similar to what the dog’s owner used to accompany their “performance”. 

—E. Glaze

Pure Oil in Ohio
As cars became more affordable, people began to travel and send postcards from the  places they visited.  Apparently Ohio was so proud of this Pure Oil gas station that they sold postcards of it. The facade is probably similar to the one where my father worked.

Victrola hand cranked
© 2nd Cents, Inc.
A portable Victrola with crank handle to wind it up.

Fly Ball

Grandpa shagging flies
In the civil war dusk
Once the horses were picketed
If nobody turned up sick or shot.

Daddy wound twine about cork,
Sewed horsehide to make a ball, a century past,
Helping him stitch in surgery
Or stretching for wild throws
Under the town crag by the Elk Creek.

The stiff-lacing
Cuffed the fingers so
What’s the delicious remnant,
The swivel of whack!
Aha!  Or slipping it past them.

Some Baltimore chop
A downward blow
That escapes itself sunward,
Up bounding beyond reach
Plashing the creeks of rough and private sky.

© Andrew Glaze 2015, from Overheard In A Drugstore

My father was a lifelong baseball fan.
Growing up in Birmingham, Alabama, his family would go to see the Birmingham Barons play games at Rickwood Field,. It was in the West End of town. There were two teams in those days. The better players were African American, they played as the “Birmingham Black Barons”, and their members included Alabama natives Willie Mays, and Satchel Paige, as teenagers.

Given the fact that the state of Alabama, much less the city of Birmingham, has never had a Major League Baseball Team, you’d probably be surprised to learn that Birmingham has become a modern mecca for Hollywood baseball films. This is because Rickwood Field, the same ball park my father visited, and which was built in 1910, is now the oldest remaining baseball field in the entire United States.

In the Jackie Robinson bio pic “42”, they used Rickwood to portray both itself and another ball park that no longer exists.  Robinson genuinely did play an exhibition game at Rickwood. My mother was there in the stands with her parents and siblings that day.

Impressively, Rickwood Park still has all of its original structures intact, right down to the old style advertisements on the walls of the Outfield. The gates, the turnstiles, even the hot dog stands, remain ancient looking by design. The ticket sign proclaims, “Adults $1”. Hollywood has provided money to help maintain the facility, and it is used by a few schools and various amateur leagues during the year.  In 1987, the long since integrated Birmingham Barons finally moved to a modern facility in downtown Birmingham.  They currently play as a double A affiliate team for the Chicago White Sox. 

The poem references my father’s grandfather, who was a doctor during the Civil War.  It also references my dad’s father, a dermatologist, who apparently created his own baseballs and enjoyed playing the game growing up in Elkton, Tennessee. 

Although my father learned to play baseball, his preference was to enjoy it from the stands, watch it on TV, or listen to the radio.  In the 80’s and 90’s, when my parents had rural land in Dutchess County New York, we’d spend weekends camping at three small cabins on the property.  As there was no electricity available, my father would periodically turn on the car radio to find out how the Mets were doing.  Strange as it may sound, there is a very Zen like feeling that occurs when you combine the sound of a baseball broadcast with the gentle hum of nearby bees working their way across a field of wildflowers.

Unlike my father, the urge to actually play the game was very strong in my brother. He dreamed of becoming a baseball pro when he was growing up and spent his free time on the softball fields of Central Park. There was a friendly rivalry at home as my brother preferred the Yankees. But regardless of what team was playing, we always watched the World Series through to the last game.

I assume that the last time my father actually played baseball himself was when he attended the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference in Vermont on three or four occasions. The annual baseball game was a tradition born out of Robert Frost’s love of the game. A member of the faculty there for many summers, he was a team participant when he was young enough to play, and the event was originally held on a field at his nearby farm. Wisely, the organizers would stack his team with the better players, knowing that Frost hated to lose. I have no idea if my father was assigned to Frost’s team or not.  In any case, I remember my father once saying, “It’s hard to take a bad photo of a professional baseball player. They move so gracefully”.  Clearly to my father, baseball was poetry in motion.

Breadloaf '48 Ted facing camera, John Ciardi with bat, AG left with batAndrew Glaze (holding the bat) along with staff and participants of the 1946 Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference.

Rick frontRickwood Field’s front entrance.  You would enter under the arches and head through turnstiles that were further inside.

 

Rick standsOne side of the seating.

Rick scoreThe scoreboard and carefully maintained old fashioned signs.

—E. Glaze