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Franklin Delano Payne: 1934-2009

A High School Yearbook Pic

This past Saturday my mother sent me a text message notifying me that my Uncle Frank was admitted to the ICU at some hospital in Racine, Wisconsin and that she'd give me details later. When I spoke to her later, she told me he wasn't doing well, but for some strange reason couldn't tell me what was wrong with him. But my mother can't give me any amount of information when I ask for it so I wasn't too surprised. Despite his prognosis, whatever that was, she prayed over him and remained optimistic. And so did I.

My father, ever the stoic, didn't share my mother's optimism.

The next morning my mother called me in as chipper a voice as she could manage then told me Uncle Frank (Franklin Delano Payne - named after the President) passed away at 3 a.m. in the morning after succumbing to colon cancer. I can't say we had a relationship and as what often occurs upon the death of a distant loved one, I was quiet for most of the day regretting that we did not. He was younger than my own father by one year (my father was long in the tooth before having me), and leaves behind a wife and three daughters. He was one of my father's six brothers and two sisters. Now, only four brothers remain.

I'm very proud of both sides of my family, but I am particularly proud of my father's side. Products of Mississippi (I can say the "M-I-crook'd letter, crook'd letter I...." thing really fast --- you have to be REAL country to know this, let alone say it without pausing or blinking).

Dating back to the mid-1800s, there hasn't been a single head of household on my father's side who was not a landowner. The earliest record I could find on Ancestry.com to substantiate this was my great grandmother --- a woman who was born in 1852 and died in 1968.

Yeah...they stick around on my father's side.

Growing up in Chicago, I would visit my own grandmother in Wisconsin every summer. Only in my college years did I realize she owned the entire corner of the street where she lived. Retired from a career spent cleaning white folks' homes, once a month she would go door to door to the two other homes on her plot, collect checks and come back home to watch the soaps. Talk about gangsta? That was real gangster. Or rather, true entrepreneurship understood long before it was en vogue to package it in classes, books, tapes and CDs.

Economy be damned, this year will be the year I own land. I've owned a co-op but a co-op is merely four walls inside a building you share with many. Not that there's anything wrong with that. It's just not what I want. For the sake of my own family and to continue in the tradition of my own lineage I will have a homestead.

I take solace in the fact that Uncle Frank was a witness to history last week. Many that have come before him were not, at least not in physical form (for those of us who believe in an afterlife). I appreciate him. I honor him. I salute him.


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