During my first year in college, Stevie Wonder released he class album Songs in the Key of Life. I recently had an opportunity to see Stevie Wonder perform this classic live in concert. The show was beyond phenomenal. One song on that album that has stood the test of time is “I Wish.” Perhaps this song seems timeless because it is about the passage of time. In the song, Stevie reminisces about his childhood and laments that he wishes those days could come back once more. Although Stevie talks about his particular memories, most listeners can identify with the song by substituting their own narrative with the beat of the song. For example some may remember that only company at your house could use the good towels or that the minister visiting for Sunday dinner would get the big piece of chicken. The irony here is especially acute given the fact that some of our most joy memories occurred during very tumultuous times politically, economically, and socially. For example, when I think back about some of my most memorable and fun memories, these events occurred while legal segregation was being enforced. As a child I was being segregated and did not even know it. Conversely, when we think back we have to exercise mental dexterity because of micro memories and macro existence.
Micro memories are those memories that are near and dear to us. For the most part they occur when we are too young to truly grasp the larger environment of which we are part and of which we are a statistic. Macro memories occur when we come of age and are able go back and assess the larger political, social, and economic realities that surrounded us as children. Because of the existence of micro and macro memories, one has to be careful when wishing for a former time. For example, Stevie Wonder grew up during Jim Crow segregation and a time before “separate but equal” was found to be unconstitutional. Therefore, when Stevie sings that he wishes those days could come back once more, he is speaking of his micro memories not his macro analysis of that particular period. My own personal experience with this dichotomy between micro and macro memories occurred at a type of diversity conference in Washington, D.C. The moderator of a session was inquiring about my past. The moderator knew that I grew up in the south. She was also aware of the Jim Crow south. Therefore, she was shocked when I said I had a fantastic childhood. She thought I was lying. In her mind by assessing the macro memory of that particular time period, she could find no way that a Black child could be happy in the Jim Crow south. However, what I was referring to when I emphatically stated that I had a happy childhood, were micro memories. As an adult, I can analyzed the macro environment during that particular time and conclude that Jim Crow was an evil and racist system. I can assess that my well-being was probably more at risk that could have ever imagined as a child. My mother would give hints from time to time. But was it incumbent upon her to sound the alarm on a daily basis. I do not think it was necessary. She provided me with strength through her love. Those micro memories that she helped to facilitate sustain me even to this very day.
Micro memories can be tricky at times. Sometimes we remember things incompletely. Sometimes a name or a locality can be out of place. Moreover, is it possible to remember every minute of every day over a fifteen-year period? Perhaps it is not. Yet, the memories that I can extract seem embedded in fact. This is to say that it really did happen as I recall it. I must say that having a few childhood friends on Facebook helps a great deal. Various search engines on the Internet also help.
The Internet recently confirmed one such micro memory. I was singing to myself the other night when I started to think about gospel quartets. As a child, member of these local quartets were like superstars to me. In my eyes they were celebrities. I recall that I befriended the daughter of one the group singers during my first year of college. When I realized that she was his daughter, I was in awe. I was even more humbled when I was invited to her house an actually had the chance to meet her father. The name of the group that her father sang in was “The Five Songs of Calvary.” The other night I decided to type in the Five Sons of Calvary just to see what would come up. To my surprise a brief bio about a man named W. Kitchen, Jr. came up. I remember that the guitar player for the group was referred to as Kitchen. When I saw Kitchen, Jr.’s picture I was a bit disappointed because he did not look like the Kitchen I remembered. Then I read the article more closely and realized that W. Kitchen, Jr. was the son of the guitarist for the Five Sons of Calvary. The son and I are close to the same age. This means that more than likely he and I sat watching his father perform at one his father’s concerts. Just like Stevie, “I wish those days could come back once more.”