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She turned away from me, toward the window again, searching those

streets. “But I praise my Redeemer,” she said at last, “that He called your

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Daddy home before me. I ain’t saying it to throw no flowers at myself, but, I declare, it keeps me from feeling too cast down to know I helped your father get safely through this world. Your father always acted like
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Daddy home before me. I ain’t saying it to throw no flowers at myself, but, I declare, it keeps me from feeling too cast down to know I helped your father get safely through this world. Your father always acted like

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JAMES BALDWIN

he was the roughest, strongest man on earth. And everybody took him to be like that. But if he hadn’t had me there—to see his tears!”

She was crying again. Still, I couldn’t move. I said, “Lord, Lord, Mama, I didn’t know it was like that/”

“Oh, honey,” she said, “there’s a lot that you don’t know. But you are going to find it out.” She stood up from the window and came over to me. “You got to hold on to your brother,” she said, “and don’t let him fall, no matter what it looks like is happening to him and no matter how evil you gets with him. You going to be evil with him many a time. But don’t you forget what I told you, you hear?”

“I won’t forget,” I said. “Don’t you worry, I won’t forget. I won’t let nothing happen to Sonny.”

My mother smiled as though she were amused at something she saw in my face. Then, “You may not be able to stop nothing from happening. But you got to let him know you s there.”

Two days later I was married, and then 1 was gone. And I had a lot of things on my mind and I pretty well forgot my promise to Mama until I got shipped home on a special furlough for her funeral.

And, after the funeral, with just Sonny and me alone in the empty kitchen, I tried to find out something about him.

“What do you want to do?” 1 asked him. “I’m going to be a musician,” he said.

For he had graduated, in the time I had been away, from dancing to the juke box to finding out who was playing what, and what they were doing with it, and he had bought himself a set of drums.

“You mean, you want to be a drummer?” I somehow had the feeling that being a drummer might be all right for other people but not for my brother Sonny.

“I don’t think,” he said, looking at me very gravely, “that I’ll ever be a good drummer. But I think I can play a piano.”

I frowned. I’d never played the role of the older brother quite so seriously before, had scarcely ever, in fact, asked Sonny a damn thing. I sensed myself in the presence of something I didn’t really know how to handle, didn’t understand. So I made my frown a little deeper as I asked: “What kind of musician do you want to be?”

He grinned. “How many kinds do you think there are?”

“s o n n y ’s b l u e s ”

“Be serious” I said. He laughed, throwing his head back, and then looked at me. “I am

serious. “Well, then, for Christ’s sake, stop kidding around and answer a

serious question. I mean, do you want to be a concert pianist, you want to play classical music and all that, or—or what?” Long before I finished

he was laughing again. “For Christ’s sake, Sonny!” He sobered, but with difficulty, “I’m sorry. But you sound so—

scared.’” and he was off again. “Well, you may think it’s funny now, baby, but it’s not going to be so

funny when you have to make your living at it, let me tell you that.” I was furious because I knew he was laughingatme and I didn’t know why

“No,” he said, very sober now, and afraid, perhaps, that he’d hurt me, “I don’t want to be a classical pianist. That isn’t what interests me. I mean”—he paused, looking hard at me, as though his eyes would help me to understand, and then gestured helplessly, as though perhaps his hand would help—“I mean, I’ll have a lot of studying to do, and ITI have to study everything, but, I mean, I want to play with—jazz musicians.”

He stopped. “I want to play jazz,” he said. Well, the word had never before sounded as heavy, as real, as it

sounded that afternoon in Sonny’s mouth. I just looked at him and I was probably frowning a real frown by this time. I simply couldn’t see why on earth he’d want to spend his time hanging around nightclubs, clowning around on bandstands, while people pushed each other around a dance floor. It seemed—beneath him, somehow. I had never thought about it before, had never been forced to, but I suppose I had always put jazz musicians in a class with what Daddy called “good-time people ”

“Are you serious?” “Hell, yes, I’m serious.” He looked more helpless than ever, and annoyed, and deeply hurt. I suggested, helpfully: “You mean—like Louis Armstrong?” His face closed as though I’d struck him. “No. I’m not talking about

none of that old-time, down home crap.” “Well, look, Sonny, I’m sorry, don’t get mad. I just don’t altogether

get it, that’s all. Name somebody—you know, a jazz musician you ad­

mire.” “Bird.”

 

 

JAMES BALDWIN

“Who?”

“Bird! Charlie Parker! Don’t they teach you nothing in the goddamn army?”

I lit a cigarette. I was surprised and then a little amused to discover that I was trembling. “I’ve been out of touch/’ I said. “You’ll have to be patient with me. Now. Who’s this Parker character?”

“He’s just one of the greatest jazz musicians alive,” said Sonny, sul­ lenly, his hands in his pockets, his back to me. “Maybe the greatest/’ he added, bitterly, “that’s probably why you never heard of him.”

“All right/’ I said, “I’m ignorant. I’m sorry. I’ll go out and buy all the cat s records right away, all right?”

“It don’t/’ said Sonny, with dignity, “make any difference to me. I don’t care what you listen to. Don’t do me no favors.”

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