Calvin Turner came to be with us when he was hired to work in my mother’s warehouse. The warehouse was actually our garage in a suburban middle class Los Angeles Westside neighborhood populated with hundreds of kids, the progeny of Catholic families who settled into several connected blocks of tract homes.
Calvin was a tall, slender, reserved man in his early 20’s. He wore work wear, a chambray shirt and high waisted black trousers, a worn and tattered leather belt. His hair cut close. soul patch just under his lower lip.
His skin was the darkest brown, though freckled, he had a slight gap between his front teeth, his deep brown eyes, behind horn-rimmed spectacles were always warm and shiny to greet me.
Calvin and the cool of that suburban garage were refuge for me in the days when my sister came into her puberty and the battle of will and boundary between she and my mother began.
I would sit with him in the garage marking women’s accessories, he printing up labels on an odd archaic label maker, KGFJ on the radio station. The sweet comfort of jazz and blues often turned up louder to drown out the shrill tension of women’s voices coming from our house on the other side of the large backyard.
Calvin and I collected the peaches that grew on trees in the yard; he would pull out his pocketknife and cut them for us. Redolent and still fuzzy, warmed by the heat of the day.
He shared with me his thoughts on civil rights and social justice, the daily struggles of his race, he brought his Coltrane vinyl to work and we would play A Love Supreme over and over on my pale yellow portable record player.
For my birthday he gave me a box set of 'A Child’s Introduction to Jazz' produced by the Smithsonian and a hardbound book on Astronomy, which, to this day rests on my bedside altar of treasured books.
He read me excerpts from ‘Soul on Ice’, excited, inspired and the forthcoming, “Shannon, dig this !…”
Calvin was the antidote to my suburban childhood, the banal often lonely reality of living with a mother too stressed and busy to play and a sister already off in her own world.
He imbued me with a different way of thinking, exposed me to issues and viewpoints far more important than the small world of a 10 year old white girl.
The Universe, our solar system, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Pharaoh Sanders, Sonny Rollins, Eldridge Cleaver, Malcolm X. The ghetto. He explained the Watts Riots, quoting Martin Luther King , " the beginning of a stirring of those people in our society who have been by passed by the progress of the past decade", made me aware that the society was unjust and the problems of the opressed and the poor were far greater concerns for a citizen than my small travails.
When I arrived home from school, the garage was where I ran to. Calvin was always happy to see me, his gap toothed smile, his spark, eager to share something he brought for me to listen to or read, or see. He was who I looked forward to and missed on his days off.
“Shannon, check this out !”
After a time, my mother’s business grew out of the small garage, she moved it to a real warehouse in a light industrial neighborhood, and she bought a fine stately home in an affluent neighborhood. I no longer had my days in the backyard with him.
One day she told me she had to fire Calvin. She claimed he had stolen from her.
I figure, even though I know stealing is wrong and harmful, if Calvin stole a necklace or a handbag from my mother, who had no time at all for me, to buy me a book,read me a story, talk about the universe, science,humanity, well then yes, perhaps just this once
It would be alright.