07 Mar NEW YORK TIMES: Valerie June: The First Time I Lost a Parent
Although my dad was one of the friendliest people I’ve ever known, his life seemed to be fully focused on his family and his businesses. My father had two companies: Music Makers Productions, where he promoted the likes of Prince and Bobby Womack, and Hockett Construction and Demolition Company, where he made the bulk of his living for his wife and five kids.
We all worked for my father. Mr. Red, one of my father’s best and only friends, was his foreman. He didn’t drive, so we’d all load into the van and head to Bemis, Tenn., to pick him up. Then we’d gather a few more workers and drive to the job site with our hammers and helmets, ready for a long day of labor beneath the steamy, Southern sun.
Mr. Red kept us on our feet. As kids, my brothers would drive forklifts and operate bulldozers and backhoes. I can remember pulling bricks from the walls of the buildings we demolished. We’d roll them out in a wheelbarrow to be cleaned, knocking away the mortar with a hatchet. Then, after loading them onto the back of my father’s 18-wheel tractor-trailer, we’d head to Memphis to sell them to the brickyards. My father salvaged everything from the demolition jobs: claw-foot tubs, scrap metal, lumber, sinks. He even found a baby grand piano once.
As we made our way back home to Jackson, Tenn., in the dark of night, I’d always pray for him.
My parents were not silent about the obstacles they faced as black small-business owners in the South. They shared their journey with us to make us stronger and to inspire us to live our dreams regardless of the challenges. They made us work for the things we wanted. Read more here.