Lady Morgan: Come September, Comes A Bride

E on DC

September is the month after summer love. It’s the time when people begin to separate. It’s off to college and maybe the start of kindergarten. The evenings find the A/C off and a sweater sneaking into the front of a closet. This month my daughter will marry and her last name will change like the weather outside. I’ve already started calling her “Lady Morgan” as the summer of my middle fatherhood slowly comes to an end.

It was my daughter who introduced me to the “Daddy Club” back in 1982. I was living in the Newport West apartment building on Rhode Island Avenue. It was around the corner from what was once the city’s red light district. Some nights there were no empty corners and the ladies of the night stood almost buttocks to buttocks on 14th Street. During the weekend daylight hours I pushed my daughter’s stroller up to Dupont Circle and watched the men play chess.

Knowing I would need a larger apartment for my family, I started looking and networking. One evening I was standing in the middle of the Great Hall of The Folger Shakespeare Library when I saw Herb White (owner of the memorable Herb’s restaurant) rushing by while munching on some chocolate cherries. During our very brief conversation he told me to drop by where he lived on Fuller Street in Adams Morgan; the apartment below his penthouse was vacant.

On a bright summer Sunday I stood in the middle of a large two bedroom apartment with a serious veranda. I immediately told Herb I would take the unit and made the type of mistake that haunts Thurman Thomas who played for the Buffalo Bills. Whereas Thomas misplaced his helmet at the start of Super Bowl XXVI, I forgot to check Fuller Street for criminal activity.  In my second memoir, The 5th Inning, I describe the block this way:

If someone had told me there was a “God of Gentrification” I would have been on my knees almost every day and praying to it. How many fathers are forced to raise their children on Fuller Streets? It was a street my son would never play on. The father protects his herd, even though one night it was my cat Holly that probably saved our lives.

One hot summer night before going to sleep, I checked on my son and daughter sleeping in their bunk beds. They must have been eight and thirteen. My night ritual was to make sure to check on them. Rookies do that after their first hit. New to first base they look over at the first base coach. Didn’t someone do the same for me? In my children’s room was an unread “USA Today.” I had instructed them both to read the newspaper on a daily basis. Tonight the paper was folded and could have been left already prepared to swat bugs. I picked it up and decided to glance at a few stories before retiring. While reading in the outer room I noticed Holly my cat adopt an attack posture near the kitchen door. When I went to check to see what the problem was, I was shocked to discover a foot trying to push itself through my kitchen window. I yelled at the foot, and the foot took off. A few days later the police shot a person trying to climb into a neighbor’s window.

I separated from Fuller Street the way August separates from September or the way Orpheus turns around looking for Eurydice. My wife looked at me one day with Bessie Smith sadness and said, “This isn’t Iowa.” It lacked the space, the slower pace, the peaceful acceptance of people that she remembered when she lived in Des Moines. In many ways I knew my family needed a home. My daughter was growing up and felt sharing a bunk bed with her baby brother was psychologically damaging. So we moved. We headed north up into Ward 4 as if it was Canada. 

On Underwood Street, not far from an old Civil War fort, my daughter would dream of college, career and companionship. Now it feels like the last September. She is grown, a woman about to become a bride. I detect a change in her personality. She is no longer a child. She no longer needs to hold my hand as we cross a street. She is ready to start her own home; meanwhile a small window to fatherhood closes.  Was September always this way?  Why do I detect a slight chill in the air that surrounds my heart? I love you, Lady Morgan. I will always love you.

E. Ethelbert Miller is a literary activist. He is the author of two memoirs and several collections of poems. Mr. Miller is the director of the African American Resource Center at Howard University.

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