Only Heaven Can Hold His Heart: In Memory of My Grandfather, Elder P. D. Staples
Good morning. I've had my time of reflection. I've shed tears of grief, again, for the loss of my grandmother. It's time for some reality, deeper truth. I thought I could file her away in the back of my mind. I couldn't. I paid for that. As did my children in the days which followed my momentary giving up. Like any soldier I made a retreat from the battle. But like a great warrior determined, genetically coded with survival, I returned to the front. Stronger. Better. Wiser. And a little bit more magnificent to behold. She was placed in the earth on April 27, 20112. She had lived 96 years on this Earth.
This morning I cried for them. Honestly, I cried for me. I want to be like her. I want to be like him. I don't know how they started out since I met them in 1966 when they were both fifty years old. But I do know that they were ready for my birth. Had it not been for their dedication to each other my story would have included the Annie Malone Children's Home. Maybe I would have had a rougher time and maybe I would have had an easier time. We will never know because they DID take me in, take care of me, teach me, and try to make me into a lady. If you like my smile, my studiousness, or even my dogged attention to whether or not my booty shakes when I walk them aisles at Macy's or even my affection for make up. Thank my grandmother and my grandfather.
She was the companion, close friend, confidant, teacher, mother to over 150 children, who in various forms, came from her body. But she had help. Today would be my grandfather's, Elder Percy Daniel Staples, 96th birthday. He went ten years before her. I can never remember the exact date except that it was the night of the last superbowl game between the Rams and the Titans.
PD was fresh to def! He didn't own a pair of tennis shoes. He had a personal shopper, Brother Ernest Greenlea, and I think he had a pair of denim overalls but I don't think he had a pair of jeans. He wore pajamas and a silk robe in summer and a flannel robe in winter. I never saw my grandfather's underwear unless they were hanging on the clothes line in the backyard of our home at 3128 Hickory. Yes. I remember my first address. I also remember the phone number started with Evergreen (it was a 367 number or I think it was a 361).
He shielded the helpless. When the mother of his young cousins Daniel and Catherine died and they were left alone. He drove all the way back to Mound Bayou MS to take care of them until a new Staples relative could come and take the children in. He is the proof of the words of Ezekiel, "blessed is the righteous man who shields...."
He had God's protection in the face of racial injustice. When he first came to St. Louis a White policeman knocked his hat off of his head. My grandfather grabbed the man's hand and pushed him. The cop let him go thinking that this Black man was either very dangerous or very much insane.
He proved the words, "your enemies shall be your footstool" when he died. Everything happens in God's own time. When he started work at National Lead the Whites would put a lynching rope in his office, a shed really, he was the handyman. He would take it down each time. Other Black men who saw that rope left the job. My grandfather stayed there 44 years. And when he transitioned, those same White men, surviving White men, came to his funeral and cried like babies and told us stories of his goodness. Yes. I've seen so many things and learned so many lessons and I would be very wrong if I didn't tell you, my children, as I claim you as mine, always.
He was also a man not to be messed with. At my Aunt Marva's sweet sixteen party, Joe Bean and his brother Coke came to start trouble. Before I knew it my grandfather was at my side and even more rapid had pulled out a pistol and within seconds he was in the face of the brothers. They never knew what happened. All they knew was it was time to go. He didn't announce that pistol. He didn't raise it in the air. He didn't do ANY talking before he pulled. To prove the blues song, my grandfather was a "mane mongst menz." How many men would have been willing to defend their homes and daughters in that manner? A minister risking jail for his little girl? Not many today. But then again, there are very few P. D. Staples walking this Earth today.
Two of your three sons are gone. They made a place for you before you left us. Your remaining son wouldn't raise a pimple of your manhood on your ass. I honestly don't know where you two got your children from. Your wife, my grandmother told me, "maybe I made too much of my children. Maybe I admired them too much." No you didn't grandma. They just didn't and don't feel the need to spread the goodness you gave them to their folks. It's a treasure to them, yes, I'm sure. But it's a treasure they hide away under a bushel basket which does no one, not even them, any good.
My grandfather was a philosopher. He told me, "the Lawd don't come to help these folks. These Africans, our folks, folks that's suffering because He made you. You gotta do the work." I have run and hidden from my own greatness for so long that I have compassion for my aunts and uncles. Everyone wants to know the secret. My grandfather gave us the secret. It is an onerous burden in this man's world. Easy to say. Almost impossible to put into action. Almost but not completely.
Your grandsons mourn your loss because you were the greatest man they knew. Your granddaughters mourn your loss because they, specifically me, fear that they will never meet a great man like you.
And finally, granddaddy, I have to tell you something. I believe in God and I believe in Heaven because of you. That earth that you're in, that filthy dirt, up on Lucas and Hunt cannot be the final resting place for a King such as you. Heaven is the ONLY appropriate resting place for one of your God given majesty. God is the only one Who could have made your heart. And Heaven is the only place to keep your soul.
I love you. You joked with me and told me that I should pay you rent money for my good looks. It's true. I do look just like you. You talked with me. You read the paper with me. You walked with me, up and down, and showed me every sight and sound of Soulard. And when I was four and the chickens, baby goats, lambs, and I think a puppy, chased me around the old homestead in Mound Bayou. You didn't laugh like everyone else. You leaned over that porch and your six foot one frame was long enough for you to stretch out your arms and swoop me up. Those same arms held me when I cried. And you called me your baby and your daughter.
I love you. I miss you. On this day I will keep you on my mind. But past this day I will try harder to be the lady you wanted me to be. I swear. I will try harder. I want to see you. I want to be with you and her and Him. In all of this world my desire is to be loved so well again. It will come on this Earth and one day I will walk with you and tell you how it came. One day. In Paradise is where we'll meet again. And we will walk around God's Heaven all day.
Elder Percy Daniel Staples July 3, 1916 to January 2000. You were loved. You are missed. You were the greatest man I've ever known. I will continue to wait, search, and make myself ready for one like you. When you have lived with greatness, nothing else will do.
by La Vonda R. Staples