Southern Folks: They called him Angel

Bill Stamps remember a childhood growing up on the front porch, preforming and gossiping, while the adults watched on. (Contributed photo)
Bill Stamps remember a childhood growing up on the front porch, preforming and gossiping, while the adults watched on. (Contributed photo)
photo Bill Stamps

Miss Bobbie must have had seven or eight kids and her mother, Big Mama, living under her roof. Five or six boys, ranging in age from 10 to teens. Three or four girls. All those kids and not a husband in sight. Big Mama took care of them all. She was a little woman and sometimes wore her sunglasses at night.

Six days a week, four of Miss Bobbie's boys and two of her girls worked alongside her, mowing lawns and pulling weeds for the rich folks, in Franklin, Tennessee. The whole family worked hard and, as a result, lived a little better than most other black families in town.

The eldest son was close to 20 and had never gone to school. He stayed at the house with Big Mama and the two little ones. Miss Bobbie called him Angel, She would brag about him to anyone who came over. She'd say, "This here, Angel. He da oldest one. He daddy die in da' war. Da' Lord haf touch my boy wiff special ways. He a sweet boy. He sho' 'nuff is."

Every day, Angel would listen to his transistor radio through the earplug and watch TV at the same time.

Miss Bobbie was a big lady. No teeth. She smoked a pipe. After supper, she'd change out of her work clothes, into her worn-thin pink housecoat and floppy house slippers. Grab her pipe. Push open the front porch screen door and go sit in her "special chair." A white, high-back, hand-painted rocker. She'd light up and start rocking, at a calculated rhythm, as though in time with a slow soulful song she had in her head.

Her children sat around her and on the porch steps. Big Mama sat close by, usually with one of the babies in her lap, and a tin bowl of green beans she was snapping by her side. Angel always sat on the swing, with a fat, yellow-and-white-striped "mama cat" in his lap. Younger ones sitting on his either side.

My school was just a block away from Miss Bobbie's. The days I went to class, I walked right in front of their house. I met Angel before I did any of the rest of his family. He was standing out by the mailbox, waiting for the postman to show up. He was whistling like a bird. Sometimes, Angel stood out there for a good while. He thought that his best friend, the mailman, was a messenger from Heaven, delivering "special presents" to him from God.

Angel had a quiet way about him. His first words to me were, "Hello, little white boy." He smiled and reached down and patted me on the head. The way I patted my dog Prince. Angel's hands were huge. They didn't seem to go with the rest of his frame. He had a big head, too. Although Angel was several years older than I, we fast became friends. I could tell that he was a little slow, but so what.

Besides, if ever I was being chased by bullies, all I had to do was make it to Miss Bobbie's front yard, and I was safe. To my delight, all the kids were afraid of Angel. They thought he was kinda' out there. Maybe, but his friendship sure came in handy to me, a few dozen times.

Out on the porch, Miss Bobbie and Big Mama caught up on the day. Who died. Who broke up. Who had a baby or a car wreck. Sometimes, Big Mama would go into the slavery stories her father had told her. What she told made white people sound really heartless. I think Miss Bobbie sensed my embarrassment and would shoosh her mother quiet.

Lots of chatter and laughter coming from the kids. Not Angel. He was getting into character.

It's full dark and a single low-watt bulb burning. The porch became a stage of shadows. The spotlight was on Angel. He began his show with his first-class interpretations of all the birds in the neighborhood. Next, he stood up and preached the exact words and with the same gyrating moves of preachers he had seen on TV. The kids laughed. Miss Bobbie and Big Mama looked upon his performance as divine intervention.

Angel's finale was always great. He sang and danced just like Jackie Wilson, as he belted out his rendition of "Lonely Teardrops." He could wail. Angel took up the whole porch with his show. He fell to his knees and came back up with a full twist. We were all into it. Yep, Miss Bobbie's oldest boy was truly the next best thing to Mr. Wilson himself.

When Angel's performance was over, he'd take a bow. Thunderous applause from the family. They were always there for him. You could tell that he was pleased with himself.

Angel went and sat back down on the swing. He got quiet, again. Big Mama started getting the kids ready for bed. I had to go home. Before I left, I said my thanks to Miss Bobbie and stopped to congratulate Angel on his performance. I told him how great he was. Miss Bobbie, still sitting, added, "Angel my special boy. Jesus done reach out and touch him an' make him special."

As I was shaking his big hand, Angel smiled and said, "Little white boy, you come by tomorrow, and I'll give you one o' my special presents from the mailman."

I'm proud to have known Angel. He was a sweet boy. He sho nuff was.