July 5, 2009

The Business of Men


Mr. Hoyt’s truck overflowed with the stock of his trade; car parts of all types, tires, and occasionally, kitchen appliances. He’d park his large, creaky, vehicle across the street from our home by Mr. Lowman’s house. It was one of many stops he’d make in the course of a day to sell his goods.

Mr. Lowman was a mechanic who relied upon Mr. Hoyt to supply him with the components he needed to run a part-time auto repair business from his garage. We lived in a blue collar neighborhood and it was necessary for people to work more than one job in order to make ends meet. My dad was no exception.

As a boy of maybe five or six years old, I’d watch Mr. Hoyt amble across the street to our home to meet with my dad, leaving his sons to tend to the business of off-loading tires and other items. Dad would greet him at our front door and invite him inside to discuss their particular deals over a cup of coffee in the kitchen. During the holidays, they’d sip whiskey in the dining room like gentlemen, as they would not drink in front of my mother.

My dad was an oil burner mechanic. Mr. Hoyt, being the type of business man he was, knew folks who needed work done and found people to do the work for them. He could rely on my father to answer his phone in the middle of the night and then run out to fix an ailing boiler during the cold, winter months. I am still not sure what the arrangement between the two of them was; but, my father was happy to greet him, and Mr. Hoyt always walked away with a smile and an envelope.

There was nothing peculiar about a grown man providing products and services to the mechanics and utility men of my neighborhood. However, the era of my childhood was the 1960’s and Mr. Hoyt was an African American. One needs to remember these were the years when the late Dr. Martin Luther King was leading peaceful marches across the south, and ultimately in Washington D.C. for civil rights. In the mean time, Mr. Hoyt drove his panel truck across town and through neighborhoods where he was not able to buy a home, in order to provide for his family.

He was a fixture in our lives until I entered high school, and when my Dad found another line of work which was more lucrative and did not require him breaking his back. Mr. Hoyt still visited his other client across the street from us. In his later years, his beard turned white and his body became slightly stooped, as he was a lot older than the men he provided both parts and work for. By then, his sons did most of the driving and heavy lifting, and my dad still invited him inside for coffee when he came around.

In my early childhood, he was the only black man I was familiar with. Yet, as welcome as he was in our home and Mr. Lowman’s, others were not as tolerant.

A man named Slater who once lived in the house next to Mr. Lowman, originally hailed from Kentucky; and, he was fond of displaying a large Confederate flag on his front porch. Mr. Hoyt often parked his truck in front of Slater’s residence, and he had to endure the malevolent Civil War banner staring him in the face. Mr. Slater would then scurry next door upon seeing him arrive in order to purchase wares from him too. That type of ignorance is too baffling to comprehend.

Mr. Slater liked me and would often wave as I rode my bike up and down the street with my friends. One particular Fourth of July, when I was about twelve or thirteen years old he draped his detestable Confederate flag on the wall of his porch again. I reminded him that Kentucky was a border state during the Civil War and officially remained neutral during that conflict, making his allegiance to the Confederacy both odd and gratuitous.

He didn’t wave so much to me anymore after that little history lesson. How he reconciled his bitter, racist beliefs with his genial, yet inhibited relationship with Mr. Hoyt was beyond me.
I can’t remember when I stopped seeing Mr. Hoyt come around. To this day, Mr. Lowman still occasionally fixes cars for pay in his garage but the kind gentleman and his sons aren’t the suppliers he relies on to keep his side business going.

When I was a boy, I understood the awkwardness of whites and blacks doing business in a world of hate, mistrust, and segregation. There were the cold stares of those who drove past his truck piled high with vehicle parts, and with his two teenaged sons in the front seat waiting patiently for their father. The young men would look away or talk quietly while ignoring those who could not identify with my dad and our neighbor who invited a black man to our quaint row of homes.

In the decades since those days when Mr. Hoyt took his commerce wherever he saw fit, our society has changed. One could not appreciate how dramatically different it is now if they did not witness a business man having to tread carefully down a suburban street just to make a living, compared to just a few days ago our nation elected a man to become the next president who also happens to be African American.

I do not know where Mr. Hoyt is today or even if he is still alive. However, I believe that his sons appreciate now, more than ever, the fortitude and courage displayed by their father as he drove down boulevards and across racial divides to conduct the business of men.

-Michael J. Kannengieser

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3 comments:

Anna said...

Mike you know it is really nice to have memories of your father, but it is also nice to have memories to see how our society changed over time with respect to the conflict between white and blacks. Excellent story, and thanks for sharing, I really enjoy reading it. Anna :)

Paul said...

I enjoyed this not only as a piece of writing, Mike, but also as a piece of social history. With regards to President Obama, it's quite amazing and uplifting to see how far the culture of a place can change in a relatively short period.

Mr. Grudge said...

Hi Anna,

Thanks for the comment. I do miss my father and I will continue to write about him in many different contexts. I appreciate you visiting here, even though I have drastically cut down on posting.

Hi Paul,
it is funny how ordinary people can chronicle society's progress with anecdotal evidence such as this story here. My dad was ahead of his time and he was self educated. he rose above the zeitgeist of his era and saw people as people. If there is one legacy my father left us, it is one of fairness and tolerance. Thank you for reading and for your comment.

-Mike.