Albert came to northern Illinois from the hills of Kentucky to work in the steel mill. The owners were scrambling to fill vacancies left by men being called to fight the Nazis in Europe. The fact that he was in his fifties, had graying hair, and could not read or write didn't matter. What did matter was that he could work. Albert always wore bib overalls, and he always carried a bag of Bull Durham cigarette tobacco tucked in the top pocket of the overalls. Albert was surrounded by a kind of peace that seemed unshakable, constant, and consistent. I'll always remember the kindness that radiated from his eyes when he looked at me. Being around Albert gave me a feeling for another kind of life — one of peace, serenity, and saneness, which are always absent in an alcoholic family. When we sat on his front porch swing, my feet didn’t reach the floor so Albert would push for both of us. That’s the way it is with friends.
Albert’s wife Ruth was a large woman with a heart and a voice to match her size. She had a built-in megaphone. Even in normal conversation you could hear her a block away. She adopted me, more or less, from the time I could navigate the distance from our yard to her back porch. Ruth always prided herself, as many southern cooks used to do, in the art of biscuit-making. She always saw to it that I got two or three of every batch of biscuits she ever made — and she made the worst biscuits you've ever tasted. If there had been GPS back then, I would have sworn I was equipped with a transmitter that helped her find me regardless of where I was. I can still hear her voice calling from her kitchen door, “Johnny, got fresh biscuits. Get down outta that tree and get in here and get some.” Even though the biscuits were terrible, the saving grace was the blackberry patch behind her house. She made the best blackberry jam you've ever tasted! A slab of real butter, some of that jam, and those biscuits weren't half bad. I never had the heart, even as young as I was to complain about something given with such love. That’s the way love is. People offer it in the best way they know how. [Click below to read the rest]