At All Costs
“IT IS A PECULIAR SENSATION, THIS DOUBLE-CONSCIOUSNESS, THIS SENSE OF ALWAYS LOOKING AT ONE’S SELF THROUGH THE EYES OF OTHERS, OF MEASURING ONE’S SOUL BY THE TAPE OF A WORLD THAT LOOKS ON IN AMUSED CONTEMPT AND PITY. ” W. E.B. DU BOIS, “THE SOULS OF BLACK FOLK”
1965 Clayton, MO
Donald James Franklin was a most unusual man. Squat with broad shoulders, he had an imposing presence that belied his small stature. Clean shaven and bespectacled, he was widely known as a man that valued an economy of words; he didn’t speak much, but when he did it was understood that the subject was of the utmost importance. In fact, it was in large part due to this trait that he commanded respect from virtually everyone he encountered, from the colored service workers that were the lifeblood of his operation, to Mr. Weiss, the ornery leasing manager of the strip mall in which Franklin Dry Cleaners was an anchor tenant. Situated at the head of his dining room table one breezy April evening, he listened intently to the rumblings of his offsprings as he took in fork fulls of pot roast and mashed potatoes.
“Momma can you believe it?!” his eldest child Lisa began, “I have less than two months for graduation and they still haven’t responded!”
Seated opposite him at the far end of the table, Edna, Donald’s wife of 25 years, gave a dismissive wave of her hand in response to her daughter’s protest.
“Chile, don’t you go worrying about that,” she said. “I already told you if they don’t know what they have in you, it’s their loss. You already have 4 scholarships. You don’t have anything to worry about.”
15 year old Donald Jr., the eldest son and second offspring of the Franklins,never missed an opportunity to agitate his sister, particularly when such a clear opening presented itself. He leaned over conspiratorially and fake whispered to his younger sister Antionette.
“Maybe they have enough girls with big foreheads,” he said in a voice loud enough for the whole table to hear, causing the six year old girl to suppress a nervous chuckle.
“Shut up jr.!” Lisa spat indignantly.
“What? I’m just saying maybe they’ve reached their quota of nappy head girls with abnormally large heads,” Donald Jr. continued grinning widely. Lisa, visibly mortified, look toward her mother.
“Momma! You hear this.”
As she typically did in these instances, Edna toed the middle ground. Not wanting to suppress her son’s natural gregariousness while being sensitive to her daughter’s many insecurities (chiefly among them the size of her head), the matriarch of the Franklin clan had become a masterful diplomat, a skill that would serve her well years later during her foray into politics.
“Don’t entertain that foolishness Lisa.” she said between bites of pot roast. “Jr.?”
“Cut it out.”
“Yes ma’am,” Jr. said, his sheepish grin giving way to a more rueful expression. Lisa self satisfied, donned a smug countenance as she turned to her father.
“Daaaddy,” she began, “Did you give any thought to what we talked about?”
Donald Sr. grabbed the napkin out of his lap, ran it over his mouth, and placed it on the table after folding it. He placed his elbows on the table before lacing his fingers together, resting his chin on his thumbs.
“Not beyond what I already told you,” he said flatly, his penetrating eyes unnerving his eldest child. Squirming and clearly uneasy, she looked toward her mother with pleading eyes.
“Darling,” his wife started, “This is her senior year and she hasn’t gone to a single dance. She hasn’t been to any social events or… how is she supposed to…”
“The answer my dear,” he began again, “is no. Let that be the last of it.”
Lisa hung her head momentarily, looked from side to side, and without warning bolted from the table. Edna, exasperated, glanced in her husband’s direction before following the girl out of the room, calling her name to no avail.
Donald Sr. resumed eating his food as his younger children, Don Jr., Antionette, his second oldest daughter Cecily, and 9 year old son Du bois, looked on wordlessly. After a few fork fulls of roast, he took it upon himself to make the spat a teachable moment.
“There is nothing in the world I would not do for you. You are my children, and I will meet death before I let anything happen to any of you. My number one job is to protect and provide for you all, even if that protection feels like oppression. It’s my responsibility.”
His eyes rested on 11 year old Cecily.
“CC, come here sweetheart,” he said.
She looked first at Don Jr. and then Du bois before reluctantly making her way to where her father sat on the far end of the table. When she got close enough, he reached for her hands.
“This is my promise to you,” he started. “No matter what happens, I will always be here to protect you. All I ask is that you trust me. You trust me, right?”
“Uhh, yes, I — I trust you daddy,” she stammered.
“Good,” he said. “Very good,” giving a sweeping glance of his two sons. He let Cecily return to her seat before turning his attention to his boys.
“Boys, I want you to remember this when I’m dead and gone. The man that can not protect his family is useless. No matter the consequences, no matter the cost. Protect your family, especially, your girls.”
The boys, unsure of what to make of the entire ordeal, exchanged puzzled looks. When they failed to give him a satisfactory response after a few moments, he decided to take a different tact.
“Repeat after me,” he said. “I will never endanger my children, I will protect my wife, and I will do this if it costs me my life. Say it!”
The boys, now visibly shaken, repeated their father’s words.
“Good,” he said. “You may not understand now, but believe me you will one day.”
To be continued…