Monday, June 22, 2009

Happy Father's Day

I meant to post this yesterday but I'll post it now for posterity sake as I say Happy Father's Day to my dad in heaven. Father's Day is for me a sad reminder of the passing of my dad ten years ago and my mom on June 8th. I'm grateful to all the love and concern shown my way recently. The folks making me promise to call them or they'll call me sort of thing. The list is becoming long; a blessed thing so it may become hard to fulfill that promise. I know they connect or relate with the fact that here I am an only child with no parents or even grand parents left in the world. That gives me pause and deep sighs because I miss all of them and so much time has passed by that it's just mind blowing. I didn't know my grandfather on my mother's side too well because I was so young but I do forever remember his huge grin and smile. His german features to the point where you could definitely see the german mixed with black heritage in him... I was very close to my grand father on my father's side. I feel like that closeness remained even after his passing so long ago in the early 70's. There's never a day that goes by without me thinking of him in some way. His influence on me was/is strong despite the short time we spent together. He is the man I always aspired to be like. Strong, hardworking, honest, carrying himself tall/confident yet gentle at the same time. I've always felt like he was/is my guardian angel all these years though perhaps they all are and especially now that my mother has joined them in heaven, she's probably watching me the most.

My father, Virgil "Sonny" Rivers was special to me and he lived quite a life. We at times had some misunderstandings or lack of communication when physically at a distance from each other but typically when we were together, everything was alright. Sometimes, I even felt a little jealousy coming from him because I reminded him so much of his father. It didn't help that his mother/my grandmother kept telling him and reminding him that I was the reincarnation of my grandfather. Later on when she got really sick, she'd even mistake me for my grandfather. Nevertheless, I was always proud and always admired my father for his accomplishments and his skills. He was gifted at carpentry even though he spent the first half of his life in the music/record retail business. And as time goes by, memories become like historical literature that would make for great books or fascinating movies... I know my father had fun in his life though I'm not so sure he recognized or even at times appreciated his journey. I think that's the best part of living is to recognize the journey you're on and to pay close attention to every phase of it, good and bad...

I can recall way back when my father was traveling up and down the westcoast working for Fedco's music department. Sort of like a salesman and bringing in the latest hot product into their various stores. Then when he had promotional copies or extra copies of albums, he would bring them home. Needless to say, I was exposed to a wide variety of music as I can remember him bring home the first Beatles record, Hendrix, various Motown stuff, Miles Davis, Coltrane, Issac Hayes etc. I didn't really know what it was because I was a baby but I'd always notice the different album cover images. After a while in the mid seventies my father got the opportunity of a lifetime to head a chain of record stores in Houston called Budget Soul and he ran with it. That was seventies heaven with the afros, beautiful ladies, cadillac sevilles, corvettes, cash flowing everywhere, bell bottoms and open silk shirts with some kind of gold chain and medallion. He got into partnerships with various music business folks in the Houston area like George Fraizer who was a DJ at KYOK, Steve who was a promotion man, Big George who was the muscle, Gil Butron who was his most popular at his number one Budget Soul store on Alameda. They all formed a little concert promotion agency called Family Productions. It was the limelight, the highlife and everything else. It made it hard for my father to come down to the reality of the slow times on Carmona Avenue with wife and kid back in Los Angeles. The life he was then living in Houston where eventually the mayor awarded him a key to the city for being a black man running a record retail business and generating more than a million in sales had him truly feeling himself. My father is originally from Mt. Pleasant Texas which back in his day was very few people. It was a country town in the best sense of the word and tradition. He had no indoor plumbing, they took baths by filling up an aluminum bathtub with water they carried in from the well. My grandmother truly made everything from scratch, whether it be churning the butter, making preserves from fruit off the trees, vegetables grown outside, chicken that they raised, etc etc. That was his life before and the reason why when he got old enough, he left though from what he shared with me, his first stop was Chicago before he made his way to LA. I'm not sure what he did in Chicago. he never went into much detail about it except to say that he struggled a great deal and that it wasn't what he'd hoped for.

As times went on in Houston and he decided to end things with my mother, eventually even his hightimes took a downward spin. As I always say, once you start feeling invincible, that's usually when a higher power steps in to remind you just how human you really are. He had some health issues, he started to get tired of the music business because it began to change and transform into something less personal, if you will. I mean, Budget Soul Records was the kind of place where you walk in and get personal attention from the person behind the counter. Is you weren't sure what was new and hot, the person would put the needle on the record and play it for you. I remember working in my father's store on summer vacation and having this one guy come in from one of the neighborhood discos and asking me to just show him what was out. I went through pretty much the top 40 plus records at the time. he'd hear the intro to the record and would already know it was good. At the time the hot stuff was James Brown, Rufus & Chaka Khan, Brick, Brother's Johnson, Tower Of Power, Crusaders, Parliament-Funkadelic who we always soldout, Al Green, Curtis Mayfield, Barry White, and the list goes on and on when the music was incredible... Those were the days but then that change happened. In Houston it was a place called Cactus Records, which was similar to Big Ben's in LA where it was like a huge supermarket size record store that sold not just albums, tapes and cassettes but also electronics and everything else. No more personal attention. You just shop and purchase. That was the perfect opportunity for my father to get out and do something else he enjoyed that gave him real true personal satisfaction. He moved to northern Cali and got into contracting; building homes, doing bathrooms, kitchens, etc. As he and my mother redeveloped their friendship and closeness during these latter years, he was greatly encouraged by her and thru her pushing him he studied hard and got his contractors license. He did well enough to where he would work six months and then take time off to travel and see the world... He lived and that's what I appreciate about him. In the end I felt as if he were slowing down and really contemplating or perhaps re-evaluating his life, his friends, his surroundings but before it could all make sense so to speak, his time was up. He had a sudden and devastating heart attack on Oct. 3, 1998. His body was put to rest in his hometown, Mt. Pleasant. Unlike my mother who was blessed with time to get things in order and to make all of her wishes known, my father wasn't given that opportunity. Time was hectic after his death and that which perhaps he was re-evaluating made life very tough for myself and my mother as we attempted despite the aftermath to take care of his mother/my grandmother, Senora Rivers. I believe my father would've been proud of my mother in how she stepped in made sure things would be in order with Senora. It was rough because of others but easy because our hearts were in the right place. Life is precious and such an amazing journey.. My father had a great one.

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