Chapter 2: My Roots
My natural father and mother were raised in much different circumstances than I was. Nathell, my father, was born November 18, 1921, to Rosie Lee and Garci in Shreveport, Louisiana. Garci was a dice maker, gambler, and hustler type of man, so it's clear where Nathell got his talent. Garci whittled dice out of wood and carved snake eyes in the dice for gambling. There was a farm up the road from Grandmother's house that needed workers every day. Rosie lee would rush to get in line to work the farm. Her earnings were needed desperately to supplement the family income, and she would have Nathell strapped to her back while she picked cotton and tended to the farm animals. Nathell worked the farm picking cotton as a young man, but his main trade was gambling. This was his hustle until he went to the military.
Garci died when Nathell was nine years old. Rosie and Garci's "little boy" had to become a man well before his time. Nathell became the man of the house and took care of his mother. His father's death affected him greatly, but he learned to depend on himself without a male role model. As Nathell got older, he set up a shoe-shine stand to help make ends meet. Grandmother had a yard that was a mini-farm. It needed tending, and Nathell would help out as much as a young boy could. However, his mother was emotionally hurt by her husband's sudden passing, which made her a single mother. This situation wasn't easy for my father or grandmother because they found themselves struggling to survive. Unfortunately, poor decisions and choices were made during this transition that made their living situation even harder. My dad witnessed men abuse his mother, emotionally and sometimes physically.
He wanted to hurt them for hurting her. He was just a young boy and couldn't take all the sudden negative changes in his life. He was very disturbed by his mother's transformation and her poor choices in men.
He would strike out at them because of his anger. So it was decided that he would move to Keithville, Louisiana, to live with his mother's sister, Aunt Effie.
The move tamed Nathell's anger and temper, and he became a very well-adjusted young man. When he was old enough, he joined the armed forces and served in WWII. After being released on an honorable discharge, he moved to Chicago, Illinois. Several years later he moved to Summit, Illinois, and met my birth mother, Mildred .
Nathell was a tall, thin man. He wore his coal black hair slicked back, and he had long black eyelashes and very thick eyebrows. He made women's hearts skip a beat. He had a shining smile that showed his gleaming gold tooth. Nathell was charming and handled a lot of money; people called him Big Ike. This turned on Mildred and a lot of other women in a mighty way. They loved the sound of his voice. He would serenade Mildred by singing the song "Mona Lisa" to her.
He was a great dresser and loved the fashion industry. He worked at Division Lead Steel Mill, but got into the garment-selling business after losing his position. He sold a variety of different apparel to city employees, politicians, lawyers, and people in the neighborhood. He specialized in men and women's clothing and eventually got me into the clothing business with him. This was his way of providing me with clothes to wear.
However, there is a dark side to all of us, and Nathell was no different. Unfortunately, Nathell's dark side happened to be a violent one. He liked to drink and would get drunk sometimes. I remember, when I would visit Nathell and Mildred, he would smoke Camel cigarettes and gamble all night long. It wouldn't make a difference what gambling game it was, he would play. He especially liked shooting craps and handling dice just like his father. Making his mean streak more dangerous was the fact that he kept a gun--a .45 magnum--with him at all times.