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African American Fiction

Heppy lived in a small apartment right in the centre of the ‘Mo, short of Fillmore District in San Francisco. The neighbourhood used to be rough with fights, very loud music and the occasional shots. I loved it as a kid growing up sort of like in the wild west. When he passed there were a lot of people at the funeral. Heppy was well liked by most of the people acquainted with him in the ‘Mo. I liked him but of course he was my father.

Heppy lived for the American Legion. He was a veteran of the First World War and had lied about his age to join the Army. Actually, he didn’t know what his age was because back in those days they didn’t keep accurate records of the births of Black children unless they worked at a White family’s homestead where they usually had to have documentation for tax reasons. His age wasn’t important and up to his death it still wasn’t that important so he settled on a thought up age for enlisting and kept that one as his real one.

He was the fastest runner of us kids even though his hair was grey and we all knew he was an adult but he could always beat us on a city block race until he couldn’t. When he couldn’t we always let him win anyway knowing something was wrong with him but that beating us was important to him. There were a few of us who raced him regularly and of those I am the only one not in jail or killed in action. Two of us joined the Marines wanting Heppy to be proud of us. 

The late 1960s were tough on Heppy. Women were taking off their bras, kids were rebelling against their parents. The Haight-Ashbury grew a Hippy population. Poets were sprouting up everywhere. There was anti-war demonstrations and he felt communist infiltration all about. We got in an argument about communism with the simple question I put to him: what was communism? Simple, but for a West Virginia, First World War veteran, Republican he thought I was a pinko for even asking the question. It really hurt him to know I got beat for a civil rights protest march. We did not talk to each other for more than two years even after I joined the Crotch.

That’s why the letter was so ironic. I found it going through Heppy’s things. I shook my head after reading it and many times whenever I thought about what I didn’t know about him. It always made me love him a little more. I wish we would have gone back in time and raced a couple of times before he died. But we are taught that we have some kind of pride that keeps us from doing that affectionate kind of thing. The letter was in an almost yellow, envelope. The writing on the envelope was very faded but I could make out Hepburn. Inside the two pages were type written and even though the paper was fragile the ink was clear and precise. Some of it was written in that old time phonetic spelling. I remember it from other letters of folk from that time when phonetics was just on the way out. My mother and I had many an argument about modern spelling that ‘just didn’t sound right’.

This is the letter:

My Friend, Heppy,

It is our wish that this finds you of high spirits and good health. We are prayin more than once a day for your safe delivery back home here to Heburton and by God’s Almighty Will we trust in the Faith of our good son and friend’s safe return. Your Momma is at church every day prayin for your deliverance back to us. Now, I want you to understand that you need to persevere in this mighty endeavor regardless of the White Folks you hear me. We has to be the strongest the bravest the finest in they eyes for then they will see that we are real people with devotion to this country of ours and to God Almighty. That they wont let you carry no weapons is just the way they is. And you did the right thing in pickin up a fallen comrade’s rifle and killin them German White Folks the way you did. The Pastor says you is at war and at war you is defending our people and gainin the pride in us that them White Folks needs to have in our occupation of this land as free men. Now that story you done told me in that last letter brought out three things about you that holds us in faith that you will return. You aint at all in sin by what them White Womans done to you. You a man and a man at war at that. Them White Mens should not have told them womens in Paris that we gots tails. What they expect but the curiosity of God Almighty might indur them to endeavor to pull you into those doorways and investigate and one thing leading to another we all knows you is just a man and all. Now that other thing is that because they done gassed you then that means they is sendin you home soon when they through with you there in Paris France. That means you is comin home, thank the Lord in his Highness, Amen, I say Amen. Now that last thing before I sends this letter and can tell you face to face your gal Cilly done got a outside child by Matt Cousins and I am sorry to be the bearer of bad news. She is just a child, Heppy, and dont know no better than a child does. Cousins has left the county just at harvest too.

That is about all I gots to say. Everybody is safe and sound here because of your work over there and we is all proud as a dickens for you. I knows I was your teacher and you probably look at me like a older man but I see you as a man now and I adopts the attitude that you are now my friend. Keep on reading and advancing our people.

Sincerely and With God’s Blessing Be

Jedidiah Freeman

Baptist School

Heburton, West Virginia, 

United States of America

It makes me proud to think of you as a friend.

August 19, 2023 09:09

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1 comment

Tom Skye
14:28 Aug 30, 2023

Great use of specifics to really capture the time. Felt a bit like Non-fiction. San Francisco stuff is always cool for some reason 😂 Cool read. Great job


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