Black Gold

Sometimes it’s hard to believe the changes of modernization through the years. It now seems unreal to have driven cars without air conditioning, without heat, no CD changer. Guys, remember sneaking your mom’s best bedspread to cover the car’s front seat to go on a date because of sharp springs poking through the seat’s upholstery?

Heating systems in today’s houses are a blessing. Back then there was no central heating or cooling systems. Coal and wood burning iron stoves were for heat. Doors and windows wide open for air conditioning…if you got lucky enough to catch a breeze.

One very memorable harsh winter, heating coal was at a premium. The “hawk”, “jackfrost”, “old man winter”, whatever you call him, came to Brooklyn with a vengeance and ate up most of the area’s entire coal supply. Generosity and the care between neighbors showed immensely as folks shared what they had. Coal was regularly “borrowed” and those lending it knew full well there would be no pay-back. Not that winter!

A few actually crossed the tracks to the Coal Company and asked for credit of just 1 or 2 sacks. The owner, with no consideration of the wealth he amassed through the years off these same people, had a heart as cold as the weather saying, sorry—CASH ONLY. Then spring came, and with it pay back, BIG TIME.  A vicious rainstorm swept through just as a full coal shipment arrived and sat on the tracks in rail cars next to the coal company. Torrential rains flooded the coal yard and its entire stock washed away, along with most of that in the rail cars. Ironically, the water pulling this coal flowed directly into the nearby steam… the very same stream flowing swiftly through Brooklyn.  Brooklyn’s creek quickly filled with tons of coal!! All there, just for the taking. People rushed into the water filling any container they could find. It was a scene right out of the California gold rush days. Many pulled out enough to last through the coming winter season.

Highlighting this event, the coal yard owner came down into Brooklyn, hell bent on reclaiming his merchandise, with ample law enforcement at his side.  Now…can you imagine what it’s like to pull a pork chop out of a hungry lion’s mouth?  That was the same task the police faced that day, and they knew it. Facing the impossible, they told “Mr. Coalman”, we can’t tell what coal belongs to you and what coal they already had! Your insurance should cover this.

I’ve heard that laughter cleanses the soul. If so, there was massive soul cleansing that day as “Big Leola” shouted out… “I think you’re on the wrong side of the tracks… we got a gold rush going on today and you ain’t invited”!!

…It was the day of BLACK GOLD IN THE HOOD!!!

From Harambee 2007, an album created for the Brooklyn/Green Meadows Reunion