In Memory of Rod and Miss Imelda
Man, I swear you could hear Rod coming all the way from clear across Broad Ave. Laughing that big throaty Rod laugh and hollering out his “Alrights!” and “Okays!” while that old rusty bike dodged those Guv Nicholls St. potholes, squeaking up a storm. Didn’t matter if you were a stranger or not, you were gonna catch a holler from Rod.
And when Rod hollered his “Alright!” you remembered, in case you forgot, that that’s what it all was — alright. You’d be like damn, I’m alright, Rod’s alright… everybody’s alright, and here we are. See, you could do something with that. You could get started from there, do some things.
Of course if he knew you, Rod would personalize his hollers. Like how he’d give out a “Alright, Mr. Lou!” whenever he squeaked past Mr. Louis’s house, regardless of whether Mr. Louis was around. It was fine if Mr. Louis wasn’t home; it was the principle of the matter.
See, Rod was a hollerer. And hollerers gotta holler.
Until they can’t no more.
Miss Imelda, she was a hollerer, too. But not a loud hollerer like Rod. Miss Imelda was older and spoke soft, soft, and she had a smile that could plumb melt butter. She wore colorful African prints with beaucoup bright yellow, to where sometimes you thought it was the sun itself sitting there on Miss Imelda’s stoop.
“How you doing, Baby?” Miss Imelda’d ask.
But you had to listen close. You had to slow yourself down or stop altogether, feel the ground go all still underneath your feet, and then you’d realize that’s what you should’ve done in the first place. ‘Cause you know, telling somebody how you’re doing really ain’t a passing matter.
And now Miss Imelda’s gone too, along with all the hollerers that would come holler especially to her. Like Angela. Angela, she’s nothing but a little slip of a woman, but she’s one of the biggest, baddest hollerers around, to where you wonder how her voice even fit inside her. Angela used to live a few doors down from Miss Imelda, but she got evicted while back ‘cause she and her old man couldn’t make rent. (Rent’s going up nowadays, you see, but pay ain’t.) Angela still came from way across town whenever she could to holler at Miss Imelda. You know, to make sure Miss Imelda was alright. Whenever she came back through Angela’d holler at everybody else too, but now that Miss Imelda’s gone…
Listen, man. There’s new folks coming in. They’re there, but you don’t hardly see ‘em besides going in and out their houses. Maybe walking their dogs. These folks walk fast, fast, looking down at their gadgets like the world inside there’s more real than the one they’re walking through. Doesn’t seem like their hindsides’ve ever touched their own stoops. Long story short, they ain’t stoopsitters. And they sure ain’t hollerers.
Yeah, there’s still hollerers around the Sixth Ward, reminding everybody where we are on Earth, but over the years it seems like they’ve been thinning out. Which makes you wonder.
If all the hollerers — all the Rods, Miss Imeldas, and Angelas — disappeared, how would we know where we’re at? And how would we know if everybody’s alright?
Woodlief Thomas is a teacher and writer who lives in New Orleans. He is currently drafting his way through a novel and working with the Creative Writing class at Lake Area High School on a book of student writings through the organization Neighborhood Story Project. His writing has appeared in In These Times, Newfound, Oxford American and The Progressive.
Storyville is a new collaboration between of the University of New Orleans and WWNO. These are true stories about New Orleans written by the students in the University’s Creative Writing Workshop — our next generation of writers. The stories are as diverse, original and colorful as the city itself.
Produced by Laine Kaplan-Levenson.