'Po-chops, cabbage, and kone-bread - and Kool Aid to wash it down!'

06/14/07 - posted by Hamilton Barrett - Mimereader2<at>Yahoo.com

In the late 1950s my family lived in the house at 75 Brighton, which is on the west side of the street on that steepest block between Grafton and Lakeview.

In those days there were at least three Filipino families with kids who played on the street of that block a lot. But as there was only one Black kid there at that time, and I was the most frequent of the White kids outside, we were the cultural outsiders and became best friends.

And being Ralph Bayard's best friend could sometimes be a very good thing, especially if anything came up involving the many Black kids on the next block over to the east, which was Lee Street. In fact, the kids on Brighton hardly ever went over to Lee Street at anytime or for any reason.

On any occasion I did go over there, it was usually with Ralph. and that included one evening when I accompanied him while he was collecting bills associated with his paper route. And it was always a cultural adventure.

For example, I remember one very large and agreeable Black lady responding to us at her door buzzer, but then insisting that we all wait through the conclusion of the "Amos and Andy Show" before any business was conducted. And when it was over the lady said: "Oh, I knows they all White folks, but it's still ma favorite program."

An odor of cabbage hung particularly thick throughout the house that night, and Ralph being somewhat attuned to my own reaction to this less familiar culture almost got us into trouble with an epidemic of snickering.

As you can tell, Ralph frequently found a way to have fun no matter what was going on. And that was particularly the case after a much younger Black kid by the name of Junior and his family began renting a place on our own block.

In fact, Junior's family happened to move into a small cottage that was immediately on the south side of my own family's place; so even though he was really too young for Ralph or I to play with, we did get to know him well.

Junior lived with his mother and a few sisters, and somehow or another we came to realize that his mother thoroughly disliked White people. In fact, Junior himself seemed to have a habit of throwing rocks at people without any kind of provocation. And it's likely that poverty was one of the reasons.

As there were limitations, Ralph and I tended to steer clear of Junior unless he seemed to be in an agreeable mood. And Ralph gained a sincere fascination for Junior's family, as they all sounded very Black and quite Southern.

One especially unforgettable day, for reasons I'm now about to get into, Ralph began a conversation with Junior about food. Ralph's own mother had a good income and worked as a cook at San Francisco Airport, but for some reason she always kept the kitchen cabinets at home locked, so he tended to obsess about food.

On this particular evening, when he seemed to be drawing Junior into a conversation mostly for my entertainment, Ralph happened to hear that Junior was preparing to go inside for dinner, and so he said: "Junior, what's for dinner?

And Junior said: "We havin po chops."

Something about this got Ralph on a roll, because the next thing he asked is:

"Junior, whatca havin with them po chops?"

And without missing a beat, as if on cue, Junior came back with: "We havin cabbage wit dem po chops."

Now even Junior was smiling at this, so I just kept my mouth shut while sitting on a nearby concrete seat.

Then Ralph said: "Well Junior, what-ca havin wif dem po chops and da cabbage?"

And again, as if right on the same wavelength, Junior says: " We gonna have us some "kone-bread" wit the po-chops n the cabbage."

At this point Ralph looked stunned, like someone who had accidentally come up with the words of a number one song, and so he begins to chant: "Po chops, cabbage, n corn bread." "Po chops, cabbage, n corn bread."

In fact, going beyond even that, Ralph bends over and with his hands slapping time against his thigh, goes into doing what's called a hambone or hand jive. And all the while he's chanting out:

"Po chops, cabbage, and kone-bread."

Then Ralph stops, looks at Junior as if something is missing, and more seriously asks:

"Junior, what-chall gonna drink with the po-chops, cabbage, and kone-bread?"

At this point Junior says: "We havin Kool-aid."

And Ralph, looking as if inspiration has totally swept him away, returns again to slapping his thigh to this beat:

"Po-chops, cabbage, and kone-bread - and Kool Aid to wash it down!" Then again and again: "Po-chops, cabbage, and kone-bread - and Kool Aid to wash it down!"

Finally Ralph stops all this, and again looking quite serious asks: "Junior, can you go in da house and get me some kone-bread." And to this Junior says: "I can't cause ma-momma she mixes the kone-bread with the cabbage."

As you can imagine, Ralph came apart laughing. In fact, months later we were both falling apart everytime either of us decided to utter those magical words: "Po-chops, cabbage, n kone-bread, n Kool Aid to wash it down!"

I don't know where Ralph is today, though he had some interest in show business. What I do know is that if he is alive, wherever he is, he's still going into that routine and probably doing a hand-jive at the same time; so if you see him, let him know Hamilton never forgot it either.

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