I could barely sleep the night before. In a few hours I’d be sitting along side Uncle James fishing in Kensington Metro Park.
Uncle James was a strange man. He was small in statue, very dark skinned and he hated the white man. He married my cousin Boots and the family could never figure out what she saw in him.
My aunt and great grand mother, who I lived with, thought he was ugly and ignorant.
He couldn’t keep a job, resented that he had to often rely on my cousin financially and bitched about the white man constantly.
I was excited to hang out with him though. I loved leaving the city and experiencing other parts of our community. Kensington was about an hours drive from my west side Detroit community.
On a warm Saturday morning a light tap on the door stirred me. I gathered my stuff and we were on our way to Kensington. Uncle James was unusually quiet this morning. Maybe because it was about six in the morning and he hadn’t had his morning coffee yet.
He usually greets you with a loud hello and an even louder cackle. He seemed to perk up after we stopped at a store near the park for night crawlers and beverages. That’s when he began his daily diatribe about Peckerwoods — his name for white people.
Uncle James did not hate all white people, just the ones he worked with and worked for. He could not keep a steady job and believed whites stood in the way of prosperity. He never took responsibility for being fired. It was always the white man who held him back.
“Man, these peckerwoods don’t want to see you get ahead,” he complained.
He had a “secret fishing spot” that he claimed nobody in the world knew about. The odd thing is his secret fishing spot had trampled grass and beer bottles on it. So somebody else knew.
We found his secret spot, baited the poles, and waited for the fish to bite.
“Here fishy, fishy fishy,” Uncle James called out.
I scolded him for being too loud. I also went fishing with one of my friend’s uncle and he demanded silence when our lines hit the water. He claimed the fish could hear us talking and would scatter. Uncle James swore that was not true.
We caught a few fish. I got an earful of how unfair the white man was to black people. And then we packed up and headed home. It was a beautiful, warm day. But the ride to Kensington wore me out.
I fell asleep pretty quickly after he dropped me off.
There was a whirlwind of activity the next day. My grand mother, aunt and cousin all barged into my room asking strange questions. Did Uncle James seem OK? Did something happen that bother him when we went fishing? Did we get into an argument?
“No,” I said.
Uncle James was dead. He woke up the next morning, placed a gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger. His mother heard the shot and saw his brains and skull splattered on the wall and fell apart.
Uncle James wasn’t the only victim this day. His mother wondered what could she have done differently. My cousin went into depression and questioned everything about herself. Was she a good mate? Did she treat him badly?
His suicide devastated the family. You trace your every step. Maybe he became upset when I scolded him for being too loud at the fishing bank. Maybe I got too annoyed at hearing him bitch about the white man again.
My aunt and grandmother felt guilty for believing him to be stupid and ugly.
We never knew why Uncle James killed himself that day. But it left a scar on all of us for a very long time.
We all became victims that day.Find Terry Foster Podcast here: