The Man Who Stands
Meems' BFF, Leonard told me a great story as I drove him home from church yesterday, and the conversation continued this morning when I popped in to see Meems. Leonard was there to have lunch with my sweet little mother.
Little by little, story by story, I'm beginning to glimpse the full picture of Leonard, a vibrant man of the Greatest Generation. He's a Baltimorian. He met his bride at Baltimore's Sollers Point High School where he taught mathematics. (He always respects the study of numbers by using the more formal designation, "Mathematics." "If you teach it, you should call it by the correct name.")
There at SPHS he met the beautiful choir director, Irene, and she became the object of his affections. They married in 1954. In 1956, the young couple moved into a little 3 bedroom/1 bath house on Piedmont Street that was part of a pocket of bungalows built specifically for veterans in the Hamlon Longwood neighborhood of NW Baltimore. Leonard and Irene were some of the first to become residents of these freshly built homes. Leonard, the mathematician is really good with numbers. I mean REALLY good. (Keep reading, you'll see.) He told me that his mortgage payment was $75 a month, and he paid it off in 30 years.
During the 50's almost 1,000,000 people lived in the city of Baltimore. A dark cloud of heroin addiction settled down over the city in the 60's triggering a massive migration of white people to surrounding suburbs. Baltimore's population diminished leaving behind the elderly, the poor and drug addicts. From then on, the population of a city once teaming with citizens dropped. Today, just over 600,000 people live there. That's a loss of some 400,000* people. Gone. Retreated to "higher ground." Those numbers would be comparable to zombie apocalypses in cities like Tulsa, Oklahoma and Minneapolis, Minnesota. Baltimore became a ghost town listing towards the darkness of crime and addiction.
Through it all, Leonard and his family stood firm. You see, Leonard is A MAN WHO STANDS FOR SOMETHING. He is a man of action. As the new homes began to fill with families, he started up the Hanlon Neighborhood Association that continues even today. He is a firm believer in gathering people together to create change for the better. During his most recent visit to Baltimore, the neighborhood association granted Leonard a lifetime membership. The man had been paying the association dues the 7 years he's lived in Lubbock. He also started the first City-Wide PTA in Baltimore which he tells me is no longer in existence.
During the the darkest days when drug dealers trolled the streets of his neighborhood, Leonard came up with a plan. He rallied the people on his street, "19 houses and 19 veterans, house numbers 3001 to 3031," to join him in standing on the sidewalks in front of their homes. "One evening we lined the streets so that the drug dealers would figure out that they needed to find another neighborhood to deal in." It worked. While they had planned to stand together every night until the drug dealers got the message, that one night of "standing" did the trick. The bad guys never came back. Leonard took a stand. His friends stood with him.
Leonard and my mother are fast friends from 2 different worlds. While he was advocating for safer streets and quality education in the big city of Baltimore, she was down in little Carthage, TX, using "Whites Only" ladies rooms and teaching 3rd grade in the "White School." She attended PTA meetings because as a teacher, she was required to attend or because one of her offspring was in the program. Leonard loyally went to PTA meetings to advocate for teachers and students in a society battling the edge of darkness. As the Vice President and Education Chairman for the Baltimore City Liberty Chapter of the NAACP, he went with the President, "Mrs. McMillan," to the Maryland State Department of Education to ask for assistance for the students of Baltimore. Their tests scores were continually dropping. Maryland answered with $1,000,000. One Million. US dollars. Back in the days when a gallon of gas cost 25 cents.
What are the odds that these two 91-year-olds would both end up in Lubbock, Texas just after the dawn of the 21st century and become dear, loyal friends? For such a time as this. Leonard loves his role as watchdog and protector over my mother. She relishes the attention of a hero.
Martin Luther King stood on a national stage. Leonard Saunders stood on the stage of his own neighborhood. They are both heroes cut from the same cloth. I would give my eye teeth to bear witness to the meeting of MLK and LLS on the streets of heaven.
Here I must interject this "detail" Leonard added when I read the rough draft of this post to him for his stamp of approval.
Leo: I already met Dr. King.
Me: Wait? What?!
Leo: I met Dr. King on August the 28th, 1963.
Me: How on earth do you remember the exact day?!
Leo: Because is was important.
Me: Where were you?
Leo: On the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC.
Me: (eyes widening): You're talking about the I HAVE A DREAM SPEECH?!
Leo: Yes, I was there with 250,000 people, and we heard Dr. King give that speech.
Me: But, you MET him? How on earth...?
Leo: Yes, I walked up the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and shook the man's hand.
Tears began to fill my eyes. Of course you did, Leonard. Because it was important.
Free at last. Free at last. Thank God Almighty. We are free at last.
*When I read this to Leonard, he corrected my math. I had figured 1 million minus 600 thousand as 300,000. I am VERY bad at math.