Opal’s Farm celebrated Juneteenth in a big way this year. We missed Miss Opal’s Walk to Freedom since we were at Cowtown Farmers Market yesterday, we had a record-breaking day in produce sales at the market! Thank you to all our friends and customers – many of whom were first time visitors to the market – who came out to wish us well and celebrate the Juneteenth weekend with us. You made our day extra special!
We loaded up the market stuff and headed to Panther Island Pavilion for the I Am Juneteenth Festival where we saw many old friends and met many new ones. It was even bigger and better that last years party and highlighted Freedom Day for us all. Many new vendors and food trucks came, and all ate well. Thank you, Miss JoAnn, and Miss Mattie’s Food Truck for the amazing food! You hold a special place in our heart. We look forward to seeing you every chance we get (and tomatoes are coming your way!).
The Dock Bookstore sat up right across from us, which was a real treat. The Dock has been at Meadowbrook and Handley Drive for fourteen years. Please drop by sometime to enjoy what a bookstore is supposed to be. Celebrate and support our local businesses that are so vital to our community.
The music and entertainment were terrific. Fireworks ended the evening of celebration with a spectacular show reminding each one of us that freedom is to be celebrated from June 19th through July 4th. It’s freedom for all of us regardless of race, religion, or politics. It’s time to celebrate our shared humanity and press on to a better community.
Ms. Opal addressed the crowd and then came to our booth to meet, greet, and sign copies of her children’s book, Juneteenth. I watched as the line grew long to meet “The Grandmother of Juneteenth”. Parents asks for pictures of Ms. Opal with their kids and themselves. They wanted their children to understand the history of Juneteenth and Ms. Opal’s life of advocacy and activism. I was mesmerized by the way she touches the hearts of everyone she meets, but especially the children. The message she sends is always the same – there’s much to be done. Know where you’ve been so you know where you’re going. Acknowledge the past so we can all move forward. Love others – especially in the small ways – and remember we all bleed red, we’re all brothers and sisters, and above all, each one of us are God’s children. Treat God’s kids well.
On this special Juneteenth – Freedom Day – I can’t think of anything better to do than that…
North Texas has been in various stages of drought since last summer. Rain has been sparse this Spring, but timing is everything – it came just in time to relieve my anxiety about leaving town (and the farm) over Memorial Day weekend. I attended a family reunion at the family farm in Kentucky and quite frankly, I’m still feeling overwhelmed by this family I never knew I had.
A little backstory – you need to know that I’m adopted. I was blessed to have the most wonderful parents one could ask for. Mom and Dad always told me that I was special because I was chosen – hand-picked if you will. Dad passed in 2002 and Mom passed away in 2017. Rarely a day passes without thinking about them.
I had taken a DNA test sometime ago and last Spring I got serious about finding my birth mother. I found an incredible Facebook group called DNA Detectives. I asked for some help and was amazed at how quickly they found my biological parents. I sent a letter to my birth mother, and she called a few days later. At sixty-two years old a new chapter of my life began. I have been doubly blessed with Mom and Momma.
We talked weekly and learned that I had five half-siblings, two younger brothers and three sisters. My eldest son, Adrian, and I went to Kentucky in September to meet them in person. Margaret and I returned to Kentucky in November and spent Thanksgiving week with my newfound family. I spent a few days in Kentucky over Memorial Day weekend for the family reunion and met a plethora of cousins, nieces, and nephews that came from Texas, Tennessee, Arkansas, Colorado, and Kentucky to be with my Momma at Flint Ridge, our family farm.
I introduced myself to one of my cousins and the response was “Oh, so you’re the subject of all the conversations the last few days”. I think it was meant positively though given the welcome I received from the family.
I can’t explain what it feels like to be among a crowd of people who look like you. I’m told that I favor my grandfather, and I look just like my Uncle David, both of whom passed away before I knew them, but the pictures are awesome. I apparently also look like my cousin Tommy because I was mistaken for him a couple of times.
I believed what my father had always told me about being special until I found out the rest of my world found being “special” really being “different”. I guess that why I felt at ease with all these people. I wasn’t different. I was like a whole room full of people that looked like me and felt a part of.
I talked, laughed, and did a lot of careful listening to the stories of my family. I think nurture is way overrated as a major influence in development. This last year has taught me that genes are far more responsible for who I am than my environment ever could be. Momma told me that when she visited Flint Ridge many years ago that something happened when she crossed the Tennessee River – it was where she belonged. I knew exactly what she meant.
One of my happiest moments of the weekend is when my cousin Brian said He wished I grown up with them. My cousins knew how to have fun. My brother Mark and I have talked about this. He always wanted a brother and so did I. Between talking to him and talking to Momma I’ve concluded that three boys with the same appetite would’ve put Momma in the poor house. Mark and I would have been good for one another or really, really bad…
I’ve learned that I am my mother’s son. I am just like her in so many ways, even down to the foods we like and dislike. I’ve come to know how blessed I am to have a momma who loves me and has for the sixty-two years we were apart. Last August I received my “first” birthday card from Momma.
I’m blessed to come from “good stock” – I could listen to the story of my grandparent’s relationship for hours – how my grandfather turned his back on fortune and chose love instead. Someday I’ll be able to share that one, but not today.
During a lull in the festivities, I walked off by myself to the family cemetery. I looked at the headstones. The names and dates told a rich history of the McCuddy family, my family. I reached in my pocket and pulled out a small container that held some of my son Jeremy’s ashes. Jeremy led me to this place. He often asked me why I didn’t put more effort into finding my birth mother. It was his sudden death that pushed me to share my DNA results with total strangers on Facebook and find my momma. It was somehow fitting that some of his ashes rest at Flint Ridge among his ancestors – his blood.
May 29th was the first day of the reunion and the second anniversary of Jeremy’s death. God has a way of holding broken hearts close to his heart. That day will always be bittersweet – a reminder that God wraps us all in arms of love and family.
I got up early this morning to study for the final in a course I’m taking in Indigenous Religion and Ecology. Unfortunately, the coffee hadn’t kicked in and I fell down a rabbit hole and cleaned up my personal email instead. I apparently stopped doing so on May 29, 2020 – the day my son Jeremy died. Life seemed to take a different path after that day.
I wrote about the grief and the loss for a few weeks after he died. My public blog became my personal journal in the hope it would be cathartic for me and somewhat hopeful that it would shorten, or at least make bearable, the grief process. It didn’t. It simply became easier to write about Opal’s Farm and passing on quotes I came across that meant something to me than to speak of the pain of grief.
So, I’ve been silent the last few weeks unless it’s about Opal’s Farm. Spring planting has taken up most of my time. It’s hard to stay on top of all the great things happening at the farm – and there are some fantastic things happening there this Spring. I’m grateful for all of it. I wish I had more hours in the day so I could tell you all about it, but I don’t so I do the best I can business-wise.
When it came to writing anything else I found myself relying on the old “writer’s block” excuse -and that’s just what it was – an excuse. The reality is grief has reared its ugly head and clouded my thinking for some time now. It started around Christmas – that’s my deceased son’s birthday – and hasn’t let up.
I told my wife that I may need to finally see a grief therapist. This was becoming somewhat debilitating, but I didn’t want to spend a hundred dollars an hour for someone to tell me grief and loss sucks. I get it.
I also get that people don’t want to hear about my loss anymore whatever their reason may be.
Grief is incredibly isolating. People who haven’t lost a child don’t get it. They may have the best of intentions, or they may think it’s time (it’s been a year-and-a-half) to just “get over it” and move on. I understand. I’m ashamed to admit it but I’ve treated others the same way. Not because I want to but because of the discomfort, and often fear, I feel being around grief. We all do it…
This morning I read once again all the emails and articles written about Jeremy after his passing. He was loved by many. Although his talent as an artist lives on through his body of work, I find myself wondering if at best, he’s thought of from time, and at worst, if he’s been forgotten – everyone’s moved on. COVID robbed us of the celebration of life he wanted should he pass. We honored one of his requests at the small family homegoing we had for him – we had honey buns but couldn’t have a taco truck. I’m still waiting on that one.
Several years ago, Jeremy and I were headed out to a remodeling job we were doing. I miss our time in the truck together – the conversations, the laughter – although I must admit that working with Jeremy was rarely easy. We’re both pretty set in our ways! Still, we had a lot to laugh about. He told me that we should write a book together. I asked him why he thought that. His reply still haunts me today – “We could write about you and me. It’d be so crazy no one would believe it. We’d make the non-fiction bestseller’s list.” I can’t argue with that…
There were several things that Jeremy wanted from me that I just never got around to while he was here. Some of them I’ve done, some I haven’t yet. He always wanted me to find my birth parents. He loved my adopted parents, especially my dad, but he always wondered about who were really were – where and who did we come from. I found that out last year when I met my birth mother – his grandmother – and learned so much of our family history. When I go to Kentucky in May I’ll be taking some of his ashes to lay at the family cemetery on the family farm we will be having our reunion at. My brother’s sons look so much like Adrian and Jeremy. Part of Jeremy belongs there too.
I’ve also begun the book he always wanted. I realized that Jeremy had a private persona and a public one as an artist. While most people know Jeremy the artist, few know Jeremy the man. It’s time for a broader (and crazier) picture of he and I both.
I’ll keep you posted on the progress and maybe post a chapter here and there. I don’t know if it will be a bestseller. In fact, I don’t even know if you’ll read it. I do know that what will happen will happen and maybe his loss and the pain I feel will mean something to me and the healing will begin…
My grandson, Lucas, celebrated his twelfth birthday yesterday. I wish we could have spent some time together today, but I guess that will have to wait until the weekend. The temperature hasn’t been above freezing for the last two days and icy rain falls just enough to keep the roads dicey, especially at night. I’m not afraid of getting out. I learned to drive in Colorado and in blizzard conditions over the years. Commonsense seems to get me where I need to go. The truth is I’m terrified by the other drivers. North Texas has its share of boneheads even on dry and sunny days. Throw in a little ice and mayhem ensues…
Lucas looks exactly like his father. Jeremy couldn’t have denied paternity if he wanted to. I have a picture of Lucas in a tree in their front yard when he was five or six years old. You could photoshop Jeremy’s head on Lucas’ body and I’m not sure anyone would know the difference. His genes were awfully strong.
My oldest granddaughter, Baillie, takes after her father as well. Jeremy was living in Colorado when he found out about Baillie. He said her mom needed him to take a DNA test but when he showed me her baby picture, I told him he might as well save some money. There is no doubt who her father was.
I spent yesterday looking at pictures of Lucas (and you too, Izabella and Baillie) from the last twelve years. My grandkids have grown so much. Baillie is a young adult now. Iza became a teenager this year. Lucas will be next year. I keep asking myself where my grandbabies went.
All of this reminds me to slow down, treasure the moments with kids, grandkids, and family. That sounds a bit “Hallmarky” and cliché, but it becomes paramount as life takes another journey around the sun – and those trips are getting shorter!
I’m not qualified to give advice. I have no letters behind my name or graduate degrees that render me an “expert”, but I can share my experience. Take a little extra time with your loved ones, especially those babies – whether they’re six months or sixty years old. Sit back and listen and watch. Hug them a little longer. Keep them close. Do it today! Be as leisurely as possible on those trips around the sun…
Margaret and I went to our grandson’s birthday party last year (he turned the big 1 year old!). After the excitement of cake and opening gifts he went down for a nap and left his father, big sister, my brother-in-law, and his wife to watch television with Margaret and me. I’m not much of a TV kind of guy so
I wasn’t particularly paying attention to much attention to the television – that is, until a commercial came on for Black History Month. That’s when I heard my brother-in-law ask out loud, “Why don’t they have a White History Month?”
My stepson chimed in, “Yep, my daughter and I have had several discussions about that. They don’t honor us with a month. What’s up with that?”
“Why do they have a special month for Black people?” my granddaughter asked. About the same time, I heard my sister-in-law mutter something about tearing down all our Confederate monuments. I was steaming mad and extremely hurt.
I love and appreciate my in-laws (most of them anyway, but I digress…). Where our children are concerned, both Margaret and I decided when we married that we didn’t have “step” kids, just “our” kids. Honestly, I wasn’t surprised by my brother-laws response nor by his wife’s opinion. But… when it comes to the kids that’s a different story. I can accept political differences – they’re extremely conservative and I’m not – but to remain silent in the face of blatant racism is, as Dr. King aptly said, is complicity and acceptance. I cannot be quiet.
I stepped outside, taking a moment to breathe, and be as loving as possible with my response. They were, after all, family. I wanted them to hear why it is important to have a month dedicated to Black History and to see people of color through a lens unclouded by white supremacy and stereotypes. By the time I had calmed down enough to speak with some degree of respect, my in-laws were leaving. My stepson came out on the porch to see them off and remained there with Margaret and me. I spoke up.
“You know the reason we have Black History Month and not a White History Month is because every day is white history day. White people wrote the history. They were able to include or omit anything they wanted to. They only tell of the history they want to tell, and everything is subject to a White view of the world.”
“But…” he started.
I cut him off. “Let me finish. Take Juneteenth for instance. I never learned about it in school. It wasn’t until I was an adult and heard somebody say ‘there was going to be trouble in Como (an old African-American neighborhood here in Fort Worth) since it’s Juneteenth. They trash it every year.’ All I could say is what’s Juneteenth?” I’d never heard of it.”
“Pick your word – the master, the victor, the oppressor – writes the history. It’s no wonder everything else gets left out. That’s really sad. The more I learn of Black history, the more I feel robbed in my youth of a vibrant story, particularly right here in Texas.”
“Over the years, and particularly the last three and a half years with Ms. Opal, I’ve learned how much Black men and women contributed to the community and the world I live in. We need to take more than just a month to recognize those things”. I won’t bore you with the details of the rest of our conversation and honestly, I don’t know if it made any difference with him, but I hope it did – especially because it influences my granddaughter’s attitudes and behavior in matters of race.
One of my favorite quotes is from Archbishop Desmond Tutu, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”
The important thing is for those of us who want to see a more just, equitable world is to speak up. Some folks are never openminded and a conversation may never be possible, but you never know unless you speak up. Maybe, just maybe a seed will be planted; a way to see old thinking as it is – white supremacy. If that brings about an open mind and more discussion (not argument) on issues of racial justice, then I’m thrilled to have been the “Sower of seed…”. As Ms. Opal always reminds me, “If a person can be taught to love, then they can be taught to hate”.
Look for and celebrate the contributions of African-Americans in your own community and share those with others. For instance, here in Fort Worth there are many organizations, libraries, and monuments that are frequently overlooked or unknown by the White populace. Try taking a walk around Evans Plaza, where each block of pavement has a story of Black history in Texas and in Fort Worth. There’s the Lenora Rolla Heritage Center Museum in the historic Boone House (1020 East Humboldt Street – open by appointment) run by the Tarrant County Black Historical and Genealogical Society. The Transform 1012 organization is working to transform what is thought to be the last standing building actually built by and for the KKK – later known as the Ellis Pecan building on North Main – into a multicultural meeting place and performance venue. There is also the Fort Worth Lynching Tour – a bicycle tour beginning in the Stockyards dedicated to telling the story of Fred Rouse, lynched by a Fort Worth mob in 1921.
There are many other organizations, sites, and museums – either existing or planned that tell the story of Black History in Fort Worth. There will soon be a new Juneteenth Museum located on the site of the old one at Evans and Rosedale. Fort Worth is also in the location and planning stages of building its own African-American History museum.
Each year, Unity Unlimited, Inc. hosts Fort Worth’s Juneteenth Celebration with a month of events and we’d love to see you there. We celebrated the signing last year with a huge festival and fireworks to mark the celebration of everyone’s freedom. As Ms. Opal says, “No one is free until everyone is free”.
Unity Unlimited, Inc, is celebrating Black History Month by hosting the Dallas Racial Healing & Transformation’s kick off in Fort Worth on February 23rd, from 6:00PM to 8:00PM at Tarrant County College South Campus, “A New Community Vision for Fort Worth”. There will be a conversation with Ms. Opal Lee and a wonderful program for all Fort Worthians to build a better community.
These are just a few of the reasons I celebrate Black History Month. If you’re in Fort Worth, please come celebrate with us’ but please celebrate wherever you are. It is something to celebrate!