Thomas Clay Jr., Brilliant Storyteller and Ruthless Progressive Activist

Read this story written and posted on Facebook by one of my friends.

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You have to have a certain kind of mind to put your finger on something that’s hard to understand. This isn’t easy for me to talk about either because it forces me to look back in my youth when I was as ignorant as I could be. I was very much a product of my southern white anglo-saxon protestant upbringing.

The first black person I ever saw was when we were on our way to Danville. I was 4 years old and we stopped for gas and I saw this old black man walking in. I followed him in and asked if I could touch him. He put his arm down and I asked, ‘does it wash off?’ He has a deep bass voice that sounded like a rumble, ‘Oh no, it don’t wash off.’

That was 1974 and that man must have been in his 70s or 80s. He had thin wrinkly skin and deep crevasses in his face. He was wearing dark blue bib overalls. I can hardly fathom what that man had seen in his life. He saw an agrarian society switch to an industrial society. The first road and automobiles. The first airplanes. Two world wars, jet airplanes. And more horror and depravity from the era of Jim Crow. I wonder what he made of a little white boy asking him that.

Danville is a railroad town where the poor white trash was on one side of the viaduct and the rich people lived in town. It’s a very beautiful place actually. Centre college is there where it churns out the children who will soon become the bourbon gentry.

There was an old country store about two blocks from my grandparent’s house. Pop kept a coffee can of pennies and when we were kids, we’d get the pennies and go get some candy. The root beer candy canes were my favorite. They were a nickel and there was about 20 jars full of candy. There was a RC cola bottling plant less than a mile away so they were just a quarter.

Garnet lived just across the street and he had some blue tick coon hounds that he would sell for over $1000 each and this was in the 70s. He shipped them to the Philippines strangely enough. If you’ve ever heard the commercial for Purnell’s Old Folk’s country sausage, the man in that video sounded exactly like Garnet. Garnet always smelled like tobacco because he chewed this stuff that came in a yellow package. My great grandmother also liked it. It was disgusting. One day my uncle Chuck came over drunk -as he always was- and sat down next to Garnet.

Chuck was just a hateful man. He hated everything. Nothing would ever work and he was always drunk. He had collected nazi flags, a couple of Rugers and a few Hitler youth knives he took off of Germans he killed in the Battle of the Bulge. He was the opposite of my Pop. Pop never took a drink of whiskey. He never yelled at my grandmother. Chuck is piss drunk and Garnet is sitting there and Chuck picks up Garnet’s spit bottle and takes a big swig of it. He started barfing and hacking. It was the funniest thing I ever saw until then.

I had already raided the penny jar and was bound to get my RC cola and some candy canes. So the store is only a block from Garnet’s house so he comes with us. I walk in and if you’ve ever been in a country store, you know that heavenly smell it makes. Like biscuits and candy all mixed together with old wood. I am eyeing the candy selection as I am gnawing on a bit-o-honey when I hear a big ruckus in the back.

‘GET THE GODDAMN HELL OUT OF HERE! Get out before I sick the dogs on ye!’ It sounded like a stampede running from the back to the front door. Four black kids go sprinting out. Mary was the old woman tending the store. She lived upstairs. She had a sweet southern accent.

“Oh Garnet they just keeds.”

“Mary you cain’t let these little N-words in heah!”

“They ain’t done nothing but get them some pop and candy like these heah.”

When you’re a kid, you don’t know when you’re being poisoned, that’s just the way it was. My Pop was as poor as those kids and he was just as ignorant as Garnet was. Pop only had one eye. He got kicked by a mule when he was just a kid. He would ‘slick up’ some bikes and give them to the kids, the black kids. People would bring him their old bikes to fix up for the kids. Garnet would come in and say, ‘Ed, Why you waisting your time fixing up them bikes for them little monkeys?’ He’d leave in disgust. Whenever pop wanted me to listen, he’d put his arm on my shoulder and lean in so just I heard him.

“I wasn’t nothing once just like them kids. They cain’t hep it that they’s poor.” Then he’d pull away and say, “You never know son, one of them might grow up to be Medowmark Lemmon.”

When Pop was a cab driver, the Harlem Globetrotters came through and broke down. He took them to the only hotel in Danville. This was in the early sixties.

The guy at the front desk told Pop he couldn’t let them stay.

“What’s the trouble?”

“We don’t let N-words stay here Ed. Take ’em to Lexington.’

So he did. They were in two station wagons. Cousin Arnie was driving the other cab. No hotels in Lexington either for the same reason. The two white guys with them got rooms after making a spirited protest. The alternator had gone out on their bus. Pop couldn’t pronounce Meadowlark so he was Meadowmark. His ‘main man’ Curly was poison with a basketball son.

Meadowlark said, ‘Well boys it looks like we’re sleeping on the bus. It was snowing bad by then.

My granny was a seamstress and her mother did nothing but quilt. So bedding was never an issue at their house.

“Oh no son, y’all gonna have to stay with me and Gerl.” Geraldine was my granny.

“Oh no sir we couldn’t do that.”

“It just wouldn’t be Christian of me to let you fellas freeze to death out heah.”

It was already past supper when Pop brought in the biggest men Granny ever saw. She has the best fried chicken there was in Danville ready and a mess of biscuits and gravy when they pulled in. So she had just been to the Piggly Wiggly and she fired up the skillets and proceeded to feed these men.

They were laid out on the floor and Lawd hab mercy, you never heard a ruckus like these fellas snoring.

Granny woke up at 5 am her entire life. So she went back to the Piggly Wiggly to get some more bacon for breakfast. 5 pounds of bacon, fried taters, eggs, toast and coffee were her standard breakfast.

Pop went by to get an alternator that would work on their bus and put it on for them. At this point in the story that I heard at least a thousand times, Pop would put his arm around me and say, “And that’s when Meadowmark pulled out his billfold and laid five $20 bills on me.” That was big money to Pop.

They came back a few years later when they were passing through just to have some of Granny’s cooking again.

There was a poor black kid from Akron who grew up to be something. He’s been married to the same woman. He has beautiful kids and he built a school for the poor black kids just like he used to be. He bought them uniforms, shoes and bikes so they can get to this beautiful school he built for them. Some people call him LeBron. Others call him King James.

This is what the President of these United States said about him.

“Lebron James was just interviewed by the dumbest man on television, Don Lemon. He made Lebron look smart, which isn’t easy to do. I like Mike!”

Dehumanizing people is the vulgarest tool every debased ignorant racist has used to inject their vile poison into the consciousness of any other dull-minded simpleton who is dumb enough to think they are better than Don Lemon or LeBron James. The difference is that the President is supposed to be the best of us. What Trump has proven over the last year and a half is that he is the very worst of us.

He defiles everything we are as a country and he is teaching children that it’s okay to dehumanize the very best of us because of the color of their skin. He has debased every noble notion that has made our country great. But what is most disgusting about that menace to society is that he is telling black children that two exemplary men they look up to are not worthy of praise even when they are celebrating opening a new school for kids just like them.

The damage that racist imbecile does is incalculable. When he dies, mercy grant it soon, the collective sigh of relief will echo off Jupiter.

This guy should be writing books! And I’d buy one!

4 thoughts on “Thomas Clay Jr., Brilliant Storyteller and Ruthless Progressive Activist

  1. Curious how I get more information about the writings of Thomas Clay Jr. Where do I go to get those? Any information will be great thank you..

  2. Dale, I don’t know how I saw your post but the stories in it and the point made are like putting my head on a feather pillow on silk sheets on a waterbed on a cloud. I’m as white as can be but hate how we grow up being taught (consciously and not) the poisoning of our souls by racism, and Tinyhands Orangehead is teaching another generation that it’s ok. It’s not. It hurts us all. One can only hope the backlash will be severe, Democrats will grow a fucking spine, the punishment will fit the crime, and that the law of karma prevails. Thank you.

  3. Here’s another story from Thomas Clay Jr:

    My Granny was a master seamstress. When she was growing up in Crab Orchard during the great depression, she had to wear potato sacks to go to school. She caught Scarlett fever when she was 6. She could barely hear with hearing aids. She would cry as she told me about wearing potato sacks and how the kids made fun of her. I have always hated bullies.

    She made shoes at a factory for a lot of years. The plant shut down and she got one of the industrial sewing machines that sewed leather together. Everything she wore was tailor made to fit. I still have a welding cap she made for my Pop. She made Pop’s billfolds. He lost his billfold once. It slipped out of his bib overalls when he was changing a power steering hose in a broke down friend’s car up by the Holiday Inn in Danville.

    By the time he realized it, it was dark so he went looking for it. We went back up to the Holiday Inn. It wasn’t there. He was really upset about it. The next day someone came knocking on the door with his billfold. A random woman found it and just brought it back to him. He pulled out a $20 bill and handed it to her.

    “Oh no Mr. Waits I couldn’t. You cut my Mawmaw’s grass for free.”

    “Just you take it.”

    If you searched Pop’s wallet you would have trouble finding the 20 $100 bills he kept in it in the secret compartment. He carried a lot of cash in case he needed to buy something on sale.

    Mom had one of the first mediport models that came onto the market to get her chemo in. It was right in the center of her chest. Mom told me she was sick one night so I took her temperature and it was 99 degrees. Not unusual so I asked if she was having a White Castle attack? She didn’t want to eat. The next morning I go to check on her and I can tell something is wrong. I took her temp and it was 102.1 and she couldn’t breathe.

    She hated going to the hospital but she knew something was up. So I load her up and go to the ER. That was the day I met Bonnie and Lissa. Her name was Clarissa but she went by Lissa. She was next to us in the ER. They brought Lissa in on a stretcher and she was crying in agony. She was just 7 years old. Bonnie was just in tears. The doctor wanted to stop Lissa from crying. She was LOUD.

    The doctor asked Bonnie what happened?

    “She was running around the couch with her brother and she fell and started screaming.”

    ‘Did she run into something?’

    “No she was just playing and this happened.”

    ‘Well I’ve never seen a kid snap their femur like that before.’

    His tone was accusatory. He ordered her some morphine. Her leg was just beyond contorted. It was gruesome.

    The doctor paged an orthopedic surgeon and checked on mom. He ordered a chest X-ray. It took about ten minutes to get the machine set up. Mom had a huge infection around her mediport. They called in Dr. Aaron who put it in. While we waited, the orthopedic surgeon came in. I just remember him saying, ‘wow.’ Lissa wasn’t crying anymore but she was still awake.

    “I’m gonna take real good care of you honey.” I noticed he pushed her to the OR.

    Dr. Aaron came in just after and he saw the X-ray and said, “why isn’t she in the OR?” He was known to be a prick of the highest order but you wanted him to be your doctor because he did not put up with mediocrity.

    When Dr. Aaron came out of the OR, he was covered in blood from mom. When he opened her up blood and pus sprayed all over him. She was really sick. He told me if we had waited any longer she’d be dead. To close the wound, he had to pack it. He asked me if I could get him a steak to go from Del Frisco’s, extra rare.

    ‘How can you eat?’

    ‘Surgery makes me hungry.’

    There were 26 4×4 bandages in the wound. It was in the center of mom’s chest and it was just like a hole 6 inches wide and 6 inches deep. She was in intensive care for a week.

    Dr. Aaron came in and goes, “do you think you can pack this wound every day?”

    ‘I reckon.’

    ‘Well you can go home but don’t leave one in there or she’ll get sick again.’

    Apparently, it was against hospital policy to release a patient from intensive care. There was some kind of kerfuffle at the nurses station when the entire floor heard,

    “I don’t give a good goddamn what the hospital policy is. She’s my patient and she’s going home.”

    He was a great doctor.

    Pulling hospital duty is arduous work. I used to cut tobacco when it was 95+ degrees and I would rather do that than pull hospital duty, which is why I always did it. I wanted to keep the ‘practicing’ of medicine to a minimum.

    The routine was mom would do 5 days of carboplatinol in the hospital once a month. I would read until my eyes went cross and then go play with the kids across the hall. I first did it out of boredom but I quickly learned how badly these kids needed stimuli of any kind.

    I haven’t been in combat so that is the one caveat I give when I say the worst place in the world is any cancer ward for children. Few parents can handle it. Some can’t at all. You find out who people are in a crisis. You also learn to spot the good nurses. They run everything. I don’t know how they do it. I knew which ones who had done it the most because they are the most distant and cold. They have to be.

    I hate the smell of the cancer ward. It smells like faint piss and fungicide chemicals. Mom would smell it and start barfing. The same with the awful food they served. Before mom could get into her room, I would have to go spray an entire can of glade so mom could get to her room without barfing. You get into a routine that even the nurses know when you do chemo for as long as mom did.

    The next chemo session I walked in to spray the lavender scented Glade, I spotted Bonnie in the kids ward. She had extremely bright red hair. As I rounded the nurses station it hit me. I saw Lissa in the bed with her leg in some contraption suspended above the bed. I hoped for those few seconds that they were just out of beds, then it dawned on me. I went and got mom and carried the suitcase to our room.

    There was another boy named Conrad there. I’d spent hours playing with him. He loved playing Uno. I hate Uno.
    I was tearing up when my eyes met Bonnie’s. The chemo bags have this ultraviolet light cover on them. I glanced at her IV and saw that awful bag. Bonnie saw my tears and just hugged me.

    ‘Hi, I’m Thomas.”

    ‘I remember you from the night we came in.’

    ‘What kind is it?’ I knew before I asked.

    “Osteosarcoma.”

    I would have preferred being stabbed.

    I don’t know what the mortality rate for osteosarcoma in 1989 was but I knew death was certain and a painful one at that. Conrad had leukemia. This wasn’t my first rodeo with sick kids. My little sister had AML leukemia when she was 16. That’s the worst kind. She was on the kids ward for almost 2 years doing 6 days of chemo stints. She would fall asleep because her blood counts were often zero. She was doing the strongest chemo there was at that time.

    Bonnie was wearing a Waffle House uniform. I could tell she came from work to sit with Lissa. I told her to go home. I’d look after her. Hospital duty is stressfully tedious. The things that matter to the patients are the little things. Changing the channel. Sometimes calling the nurse takes more strength than they have. A cup of ice cream, getting a coke and wanting a sprite. An ice cap or anything is amplified that much more when you can’t do something for yourself and you don’t want to impose on a busy nurse.

    She was one of those little girls who put a twinkle in your eye. One of the tumors she had was in her femur. The orthopedic surgeon opened her leg and saw what he was dealing with. He called in another oncological surgeon and there just wasn’t much they could do. For most cancer patients, having a surgical option gave you a much better result, usually. For Lissa, she only had radiation and chemo as an option.

    Bonnie had no idea what she was in for. She had a son too, and rent. She’d find out soon enough. Radiation is the worst, especially for kids. It makes you so sick. You vomit out stuff that looks exactly like antifreeze. You think you can eat something and you get it down and ten minutes later you barf it back up. You barf so much that sometimes you get ulcers on your esophagus and the acid in your stomach causes you incredible pain.

    Lyssa was bed bound. The radiation kept her femur from healing. She was always in pain but she would have good days. She liked playing shoots and ladders and watching the muppets. Bonnie worked. Came to the hospital. Went home. Cooked dinner. Went to bed and repeated. She would have been there every moment if she could.

    About the 5th month, Lyssa was really tired from the chemo and radiation. She was more lethargic. I’d seen this before. Bonnie aged ten years in those months. When you have cancer or are caring for someone with it, every single day is a crisis because time is so precious.

    It was a few days after her 8th birthday. She had a Strawberry Shortcake doll cake. Pop and Granny came down to check on mom. Keeping Pop away from cake was impossible. He always had peanut brittle, 2 cakes, cookies and hard candy at his house but he also used to bring us a ‘goodie sack’ full of candy. When he’d come to the hospital he’d walk into the kids’ ward and say, ‘Does anybody in heah like Reese’s cups?’ Then he’d empty the sack for the kids.

    Lyssa had strawberry blonde hair but it had all fallen out. Granny bought some wigs for her. Lyssa had 8 candles to blow out. It took her a few tries to get them all out.

    “This sure is awful good cake. Who’s got the birthday money?”

    Bonnie had no idea what that meant but me and mom did.

    Pop pulled out his billfold and unzipped the secret compartment. He counted out.

    “One. Two. Three. Five. Oops. I miscounted. Let me start over.” He left the 4 bills and started again. He finally got to 8, all 20 $100 bills were on the table. He handed them to Bonnie.

    “Now when you get out, your mama will have them waiting on you so you can get some candy.” Only Pop knew she wasn’t going to get out. Bonnie was in tears. Granny slipped her a check for $5000 more.

    Three weeks later I walked in and she asked me to play shoots and ladders. She was so weak. I got out the board and she matter of factly said, “I’m not going to make it Thomas.” I froze for a moment and couldn’t look her in the eyes. My eyes were leaking. She patted me on the hand.

    “Don’t be sad. I get to go to heaven.”

    “I know angel, I know.”

    I was fast asleep the next night when I heard this guttural and primal wailing coming from across the hall. It was Bonnie. It still haunts my nightmares from time to time, that sound. I wish I had a recording of it for whenever someone says we can’t afford healthcare but they’re ‘pro-life’ because none of them know what the hell they are talking about.

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