Mr. P, our neighbor across the street, was out on his stoop yesterday. I hadn't seen him for a while so I rushed over to chat with him. He's 86 and he reminds me how lucky I was to know all my grandparents and to have them for quite some time. His hands are wrecked with gout and I worry that the pain will drain his good will. I know my last remaining granddad had a hard time dealing with that pain, and as soon as he fell on his elbow the will to live quickly drained.
Mr. P went to Booker T. when it was a vital and challenging institution. He was friends with others who went there like Cab Calloway and Thurgood Marshall. Mr. P tells me stories about marching through France and Germany. He spent 9 months in the hospital near the end of the war because he nearly froze to death in a fox hole outside Berlin.
"These fingers might hurt me like hell now," he told me, demonstrating how he can barely make a fist anymore, "but I'm lucky to have them. A lot of my buddies lost theirs more than 60 years back. I was able to do some fine work with them over the years."
Mr. P has a house full of paintings he did in his leisure time; paintings of Jewish neighbors from back when Reservoir Hill was still a racially mixed place, paintings of chickens, paintings of gentlemen farmers in their studies, still-lifes. He was quite good. When he tells me stories his eyes twinkle mischievously. He laughs a lot and it's kept him pretty young. He has one of those thin-line lip-hugging moustaches like Cab used to wear. I call him "Mr. Mayor."
Yesterday he told me about swimming at the old Colored Pool up in Druid Hill Park. "There was a dozen of us who could beat the best time of the 'champion' white swimmers, but they wouldn't let us compete. We couldn't swim in their pool and they wouldn't swim in ours."
I told him the pool is still there, but it is filled in with dirt now. The changing rooms and the slide are still there, as are the ladders, but the ladders descend into grass and the slide empties onto a gravel patch where sneakers have pounded the grass away. There is a little plaque commemorating the Colored Pool. I go there and walk around sometimes and sit on the steps and think. I hope Obama wins before people like Mr. P pass away.