Rock & Roll Lullaby
Based On A True Story
Copyright© Mari Hirschmann 2020 All rights reserved.
The right of Mari Hirschmann to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 First published by Mari Hirschmann.
Hirschmann, Mari, Rock & Roll Lullaby E-book Edition.
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. This book contains material protected under International and Federal Copyright Laws and Treaties. Any unauthorized reprint or use of this material is prohibited. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or
Rock & Roll Lullaby is a work of fiction based on a true story. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental. All locations except known towns, cities, and those listed at the back of this book are fictitious.
Any errors are entirely made by the author.
This story is dedicated to all the single mothers doing their best to raise happy, healthy, and loved children. Through all the hard times when there wasn’t enough money to pay rent, utilities, and all the other necessities you found a way to put food in the table and clothes on your children. Some worked double shifts at low paying jobs, others barely scraped by with help from family and friends.
You could have elected to abort or put your baby up for adoption. Instead, you chose the hardest path; that of being a single parent. Whether you are a teen mother, a divorcee, or a widow, you chose to give your child life and love.
Those who chose adoption are also to be respected because they felt they could not do right by the little human entrusted to their care and decided to give another family their most precious gift in hopes of a better life for the baby.
Here’s to all the mothers who sacrificed for the good of their children. I salute you.
Racism has been around for centuries. This history of prejudice doesn’t make it okay to hate someone based on the color of their skin, culture, gender, religion, or sexual orientation. We should recognize the contributions of all humanity. Treat everyone equally with respect, and kindness. We are all brothers and sisters. As George Santayana once said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Mari Hirschmann May 2020
Emerson Johnson, you taught me how to be a better person.
Rock & Roll Lullaby
I don’t remember being born. Most people don’t. My earliest memory is of my mother holding me in her arms and singing a ‘Rock and Roll Lullaby’ she made up. I don’t remember the words, just how her sweet voice calmed me with love. When I think about my Mama, I’m reminded of a B. J. Thomas song. Like the song, she was only sixteen when I was born.
My father deserted her when she told him she was pregnant. He was nineteen and in his first year of college. They had been dating three years. Mama told me the story so often I could visualize it.
“A baby now will ruin my chances of playing basketball professionally.” Malcolm told my mother, Jenny.
“But…what am I to do?” She wrung her hands.
“I dunno. Get your folks to help. Just leave me out of it. I’m gone.” With those final words he walked out of our lives.
My mother went to her parents. Unfortunately, help was not in the offering. Her father was a respected doctor in the town.
“The baby’s father is white and in high school?” Mama’s father asked.
“No,” Mama whispered.
“He’s not white. He goes to a different school.”
“Is he Mexican? A spic? A Jap? What?”
“He’s a negro.”
“Black skinned? No. My daughter is not going to have a nigger’s child.”
“You said the color of a person’s skin doesn’t matter. What is his moral compass is what’s important. Malcolm is a good person and wants to be a Harlem Globetrotter.”
“There’s nothing to be done but get an abortion. I can not have an unmarried, pregnant teen, whose baby is a negro.”
“This is a baby, we’re talking about,” Mama protested.
“It’s a fetus. It can’t live outside the womb yet, therefore, it’s not a viable baby. First thing in the morning, we’re going to take you to a clinic a few towns away. You will get an abortion.” Her father said.
“I don’t want an abortion!”
“Then you will move out. I’ll get you to another town. There you will find a place to live and a job.”
Mother found herself dropped in front of a run down hotel in Watts which was a hundred miles from her home. Lecherous old men sat on the steps and leered at her every time she entered or left. She gave birth to me all alone in the ratty hotel room.
Just as her money ran out the owner of a coffee shop took pity on her. She was sitting on the bench in front of the place as she counted the remaining money.
“Looks like you need a job,” he said from the doorway.
Mama lifted her head and sighed.
“I sure do.”
“I could use an extra hand. That is, iffn you don’t mind working for a negro.” He grinned, showing a gap between the whitest teeth my mother ever saw.”
“Why would I mind?”
“Chile, this be 1963. I’m sure you heard of the Voter Registration Murders this year. These killings and protests are happening everywhere. I’d probably be hung for hiring a white girl. I figure, if I can have you work in the kitchen, it might not draw attention.”
“I’ll take it, Mister…what do I call you?”
“Thank you, Joe. I guess, I need to be honest.” Mama hesitated before plunging onward. “One, I can cook. I’ve been told I’m pretty good.”
“Two, I have a newborn baby boy.”
“I kinda figured somethin’ like that. Chile where is your baby?”
“I had to leave him in the hotel.”
“Someone with him?” He gasped when Mama shook her head. “You leave a baby by hisself?”
“I didn’t have no choice!” Mama sobbed. “I need to get milk for him. I can’t take him. He’s negroid.”
“And you white,” he nodded thoughtfully.
“To help you money wise, you can live in the spare one room apartment upstairs. We’ll have to share the bathroom. Ain’t much, but it’s clean and furnished.”
“I’ll pay you fair, plus three meals. My wife, Ellie, is goin’ be happy. She’s a motherly sort. ‘Bout killed her when our son died in the Birmingham riots.” He ran his hand through his short cropped wiry hair. “Now, tell me, what happened to the baby’s father?”
“Malcolm is trying to join the Harlem Globetrotters.”
“How’d you come to be with him. Can’t be school what with segregation and all.”
“I met him at the skating rink. He was working as a cleaner.”
“I see. Shame on him. A man gets a girl pregnant needs to do right by her. ‘Course you being white could be a problem with that. Guess folks didn’t want nothing to do with the baby.”
“No, they didn’t.”
“Shame. My oldest boy has a son named Malcolm. Malcolm Bonamassa.”
“My Malcolm has the same last name.” Mama stared at Joe. “That means you’re Joseph Bonamassa?”
“You be right.”
“His grandfather’s name. I wonder…do you have a piece of paper?”
“Inside. I’ll get it.” Moments later he returned with a sheet and a pencil.
Mama took it from him and quickly drew a sketch. “Does your grandson look like this?” She handed the page to him.
He studied it for several minutes.
“That be my grandson. Fancy that. You be the Mama of my great grand baby.”
That’s how Mama and I came to live over the coffeehouse in Watts. Even though my skin was a very light chocolate my hair was black and curly. There was no mistaking I was of mixed race. Mama kept me wrapped when she had to venture away from the shop.
If it weren’t for Grandpa Joe and Grandma Ellie, I don’t know how Mama would have made it during those dark days. They were kind, but the work was hard. Mama cooked and kept the kitchen spotless. When inspectors came, she hid upstairs.
We made it safely through the first years of my life. Mama and me grew up together. When I cried, she sang a lullaby to a rock and roll tune. When I turned one, Grandpa Joe finished building a room over the back of the shop.
My grandparents lived in the larger rooms upstairs while Mama and I shared the small alcove. The space Grandpa built was directly over the coffeeshop kitchen. It gave us enough space I could have my own room, Mama had hers, and a little living-kitchen combination. We shared bathroom facilities with my great grandparents.
Then trouble came calling. Mama had been so careful to keep me hidden from view. It started August 11, 1965. Marquette Frye was pulled over for reckless driving. A fight broke out between him and the police. Some folks said a pregnant woman was hurt. Outrage over police brutality started as a protest and quickly escalated into a full blown riot.
The rioting lasted six days. During this time large sections of Watts along Avalon Boulevard, encompassing forty-six miles, became a combat zone. Fourteen thousand California Army National Guardsmen were called in. The angry mob began throwing bricks and other objects at them. Some people took to looting businesses.
Grandpa Joe locked the coffeehouse and rushed into the kitchen. Mama was trying to feed me. “Jenny! Grab Emerson and get upstairs. You too, Ellie. There’s gonna be bad trouble tonight.”
We hurried upstairs and hid in the closet. I was so scared I cried. Mama did her best to calm me by singing her rock and roll lullaby. I don’t remember the words, only the sound of her soft voice crooning to me, calming my fears.
We stayed hidden the entire time. Grandpa Joe stood watch at the stairs leading from the kitchen to our upstairs apartments. He brought us food and drink.
Finally, the rioting ended and we crept down into the shop. Outside it was total chaos. Remnants of fires still smouldered in the trashed buildings. Brick, glass, and burned out cars littered the road. People had thrown bricks through shop windows and carried away merchandise. Looting it was called.
The Watts riots made every newscast, and paper. Grandpa Joe was looking around, when he heard his name called.
“Grandpa! Thank the Gods you’re okay! Where’s Grandma?”
Malcolm rushed across the street to him.
“I came as fast as I could when I saw the destruction on the news.”
“We be fine. You have some explaining to do.”
“Runnin’ out on your pregnant white girl friend. I know your mother and daddy taught you better.”
“She be here. You have a handsome little boy. Name’s Emerson Bonamassa.”
Mama stepped into the doorway. When she saw my daddy, she hugged him. “Please tell me you came for us.”
“I guess I am now. I didn’t know you was here.”
“Funny how things work out,” she laughed. “Come inside and meet your son.”
Everyone entered the store. No one noticed the white man across the street. If they had, things might have turned out differently.
The next night a neighbor pounded on the shop door.
“Joseph Bonamassa! There’s bad folk coming down the street. You best get that white girl out of here!”
Grandpa Joe opened the door. The neighbor ran away. Coming down the road was a crowd of thirty or more people. They were each covered from head to toe by a white sheet. A cross was emblazoned on the front. They carried rifles and torches.
“Ku Klux Klan,” Grandpa hissed. He hurried behind the counter and pulled out a rifle. “Get them to safety!” He screamed over his shoulder.
“Malcolm! Get the baby, your girlfriend, and Grandma outa here. Go out the door in the basement. It goes into the bakery next door.”
Grandma Ellie refused to come with us. “Grandma! C’mon!”
“I ain’t leavin’ your Grandpa out here by his self. Now git!”
My daddy pushed Mama into the kitchen as he scooped me into his arms. He ushered us down into the dank room. He felt the wall until his hands found the door. I was so scared I started crying.
Mama took me from him and whispered her song. We crept through the dark hall and into the bakery. From there, we crossed a storage room to another exit. The passage was yanked open and we were ushered inside. Barrels of apples lined one wall and potatoes in sacks filled a corner. We were in the supply room of the grocer.
“Hurry! We’ll hide you folk. Follow us.”
Outside, we heard voices yelling.
“Joseph Bonanassa! We condemn you for consorting, raping, and impregnating a white teenage girl. You are sentenced to death by fire.”
Mama peeked out the third floor window. She saw Grandpa try to back into the shop. The crowd surged forward and grabbed him. As they yanked him forward, he turned his head.
Grandma Ellie hurried forward trying to pull him free. “Leave him be! We ain’t done nothin’ to youse!”
A man, who appeared to be the leader, yelled, ”Get her too! We’re gonna have some roasted nigger tonight.”
Grandpa Joe fought hard, kicking, punching, and biting, but he was no match for the horde. Grandma Ellie jumped onto the back of the man restraining Grandpa Joe. She reached around his head and jammed her fingers into his eyes. The man howled and let go of Grandpa Joe. Others grabbed them. They went down, out of sight. The next time Mama saw them, they were burning. Daddy shoved Mama away from the window. He raced from grocery supply room into the melee. It wasn’t long before Daddy disappeared from view.
Mama screamed and cried. Around us people tried to hush Mama. “Be quiet, chile! We don’t want them comin’ after you and the boy.”
The next day we crept from the grocery. The stench of burnt flesh hung in the air like a pallor. Even the skies were gray. It was as though all the colors were washed away leaving only ashen grays and muted whites.
Mama cried. She carried me in her arms. Tears streamed down her face. “Why? They were good, kind people!”
I began to sniffle and cry with her. I wanted Mama to sing my fears away. She shuffled through the debris; picking up a scorched brick, a broken shard of glass. Our neighbors milled in the streets doing the same. Shell shocked by what had befallen the community.
Over time, she would rebuild the coffeehouse. Now, it was time to grieve; to mourn the loss of wonderful people, and to set into our minds the inhumanity of man against others who were different. I never understood why the race of man couldn’t appreciate different cultures.
Even now, I sit and reflect on history. Nothing has changed. People are still judged by the color of their skin, the slant of their eyes, their religion, gender, and sexual orientation. I long to hear Mama singing her rock and roll lullaby to calm my fears and soothe my tears.
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