Chapter One ~
It was 9:48 a.m. Tuesday morning on December 22nd,, the year 2009. Gregory Heartwell was particularly pleased that he’d experienced a restful sleep the previous night, but more importantly, he was pleased that God had tapped him on the forehead to awake and see another day.
As he stretched his arms out and yawned he began a conversation with himself with the tone of pause and reflection.
This day was no regular day. This marked his 50th birthday. My golden anniversary on this earth! Yes, this would be a great day!
Have I really lived my life to its fullest? Had I lived the life that I was supposed to live?
Fifty years had caught up with him. He’d been running from aging all life long while chasing the hopes and dreams that he’d always promised himself as a youngster.
By the time I’m twenty I’m going to be playing major league professional baseball, and by the time I’m 30 I’m going to be married with children and live in a big house rich beyond my wildest imagination and loving life.
When none of those things happened, he’d adjust his goals with new sights. I’m going to be a top executive in a major company by the time I’m 35. Then I’m going to be retired, by the time I’m 40.
When none of these things happened the way he hoped he stopped dreaming and started just living. He stopped putting pressure on himself to accomplish this by then and that by when. Just live!
In all honesty, the life he’d lived was one that he could say maximized his true talents, and was consistent with his outgoing personality. He’d taken many different paths, with wondrous experiences of things that the average person could only imagine, read or hear about. After all was said and done, he’d been blessed!
The weather was exceptionally beautiful, crisp and calm this morning. In the background the birds were chirping, leaves were rustling through the light, cool but comfortable breeze, which was coming off of the lake at the mouth of the property about a half mile away.
As the music played from the IPOD, Peter Franklin’s In the Center provided the right jazzy spiritual setting that he’d anticipated and hoped for on this Sunday. For he’d carefully planned out this day down to the time that he’d awake to his attire, to the reading he’d partake, the drink he’d swallow, to the music that would fill his ear lobes .
Just as he envisioned, he smiled and was satisfied with the tone being established. The vibe of meditation and the day had been carefully planned to let the thoughts flow in a natural, holistic manner. It was a time for deep reflection!
Feeling vibrant his internal conversation continued, I’m sporting my freshly laundered, white, French-cuffed shirt, with my ruby red, heart-shaped cuff links, Sean Jean baggy jeans, I’m reading the latest edition of Forbes Magazine, and my day is off to a great start.
Cutting his eyes away from the article about the impending president-elect Obama’s proposed economic stimulus plans.
As the sun showered down onto his Mikasa china cup the reflection of his face inside of the herbal tea drink, caught his attention. His face showed as clear as glass. “Damn, I look good for an old man!” he laughingly proclaimed.
God’s been good to me. He gave my family good genes, and blessed me with the good sense to take care of my health and body, and live a clean life.
Throughout his life his looks would usually get him in the door to certain opportunities. But his guile, character, and street-honed survival skills are what would help him to achieve the benefits. Proud of the fact that he never took those attributes for granted. His humble approach to life always served him well.
As he scanned his surroundings he took a moment to inhale the naturally clean air, green pastures and natural beauty that Mississippi possessed. After all, it was one the primary reason he was sold on this property.
“If God made something more beautiful I had yet to see it.”
Nestled in the outskirts of Jackson, Mississippi, about 15 miles from Philadelphia’s Choctaw Indian reservation, rested the 100 acre paradise of his forefathers; Heritage Hill.
The property and its surrounding land within five miles radius was owned and controlled by several families who’d resided there for centuries of generations back to slave days. Each family was related to the other.
A story was passed down by generation that Master Peeler during the days of share cropping would request his main trusted Negro Mr. George to take his horses and other cattle to town for the purpose of auction. Mr. George, who expected to make a percentage of the proceeds from the auction sales, would often get paid in deeds of trust for land instead of cash.
Quite naturally those deeds were considered worth less than the dirt that accumulated on that property of those deeds. But in Mr. George’s mind; what other choice did he have? He couldn’t rebel and callout Master Peeler, but he believed in his heart of hearts that one day those deeds would be worth 100 times the value than of those times. So he made the sacrifice for the greater reward for his family.
He held the deeds close to his person, coveting them like any other family jewel. Besides, the deeds represented ownership of the very property where previous generations of family members were housed as slaves and where he grew up as a little boy. He knew if he was smart his family would always have a home. Hopefully, he could teach his offspring to value the tenet of the deeds and continue the stewardship of the property for generations to come.
Mr. George was Heartwell’s grandma Nola’s, uncle! He was a great man who lived until he was 92. God used him well. One day Gregory got a chance to meet with him before he left the world.
Reminiscing with a glaze of remembrance Gregory gazed across the knoll of his sprawling property and focused on a spot just on the other side of the property line.
We sat on his porch drinking lemonade out of his Mason jar glass talking about life scanning over 80 years of historical events. His knowledge and wisdom will forever be with me.
Heritage Hill represented peace, tranquility and safety to George. “When I go into town amongst all that ciaos and return back up this here hill, as soon as I get to main road up to the house I feel safe and secure and protected. Everyone on the hill knows me and I know them; we’re all family.
Nodding with agreement to that statement by George, Gregory was puzzled about when he would come and visit Mississippi, “Coming from the big cities of California, I never did understand why my family especially my mom, who spent her childhood in this beautiful place, never came back to visit Heritage Hill. The natural beauty here is awesome!”
Admittedly, there was an instance when while driving he took a wrong turn off a main road and ended up onto a rural, dirt road lined on both sides of this narrow path containing weeping willow trees. Except these trees were weeping for other reasons, Gregory suddenly got an eerie, frightening vision of his ancestors’ lifeless expressionless bodies hung from the neck suspended from those trees in their slave garb. Visions of bodies swinging in the wind like the leaves on the tree, slowly from side to side were eminent in his mind.
Immediately he slammed on the brakes, and made a u-turn convinced that he was not meant to travel down that road. The remnants of slavery are still in the air in the South if one looked deep enough, and listened hard enough. But, with the guidance of the undying sprit of his ancestors who lived a real life daily existence of terror one could find the mind to enjoy the overwhelming beauty of the South’s topography.
Heartwell’s success in business afforded him the opportunity to live a comfortable life wherever he wished. He chose Mississippi to call home.
His family resisted leaving the big city for the country. Especially the country in the south, so far away from the West Coast! Heartwell understood their concerns; they really didn’t want to leave their friends.
However, when he’d journey to Heritage Hill from California and arrive onto the property, he’d often take a walk on the grounds between the weeping willow trees along the natural rustling running water from the creek, and suddenly would stop and just look in amazement at how innocent and virgin the land had been. Hearing the breeze through the branches with his eyes closed he’d listen to the whispering of the wind. He could hear the whispering voices of his ancestors who’d cultivated the land.
Those ancient spoken whispers were messages from God, telling him that his path will one day return back to where it all began. Back to the center of my soul!
The Heartwell’s committed to Mississippi living by building an exquisite custom built Mediterranean style home nestled in the middle of the 80 acre property, privacy would not be a problem.
Reflecting about the painstaking and intricate process he took in choosing each amenity. Everything that he’d ever dreamt about was featured in the estate. The finest appointments of mahogany wood, hand-cut pillowed limestone flooring in the foyer and throughout, ten foot high glass paneled French entry doors, cascading fountains and formal gardens of odoriferous flowers made the grounds look like an oasis.
Heartwell’s kids loved the grotto style pool and sports court. His wife spent most of her time in the granite clad gourmet kitchen. Baby I’ll have to admit some delicious grub comes out of that kitchen.
But, my favorite place on the property was right here on the Veranda in my favorite rocker chair overlooking the complete grounds and the valley which one can see as far as their imagination can take them. This was the place which brought me to the center of my soul. When the setting’s right like today, life really makes sense. Life is good!
Focusing back into his cup, he remembered that life hadn’t always been so kind. He’d come a long way to this place. It was less than a decade and a half ago when I was at a serious impasse in my life. I’d just been released from my contract in professional baseball. I was sent packing back to California in the most embarrassing way. In front of all of my teammates!
With shattered dreams and broken promises, not really knowing where my next step would take me. My spirit broken, I ended up on my brothers’ couch literally trying to sleep off the bad dream.
Of course being pitiful wasn’t productive! So one day his brother Hampton gave him that, “Brotha you’d better get your ass off of the couch and do something with yourself. Yes, I understand that baseball thing didn’t work but you’ll find something else. You always do. Besides you can’t stay here forever…; speech.”
Hampton was right of course. He couldn’t continue that existence, but he’d been hurt. He’d been rejected by his former professional baseball team. He’d been told that he was no longer the Chosen One, “Your services are immediately terminated. You will be okay, because you’re educated unlike many of our other players”. Ironically that’s why he was chosen versus one of his teammates whose fate wouldn’t be so successful if he was released. That teammate wouldn’t have as many options. “He’d be forced to carry a lunch pail for the rest of his life” Mr. Bean the General Manger would proclaim.
Don’t do me any favors, was his thought to that ridiculous ass statement. Nevertheless, he got fired from his dream and it hurt.
No! Life wasn’t always so great, but I’m a survivor! I’m from the streets. Underneath this sophisticated exterior is a boy from the urban inner-city of America who used his street savvy to develop a keen business intellect, took horrible life experiences to build a strong instinct about people, and the circumstances of the game.
Heartwell was a person who used his athletic accomplishment to fuel a competitive nature that always landed him atop of company’s lists of top producers. Most importantly, his most valuable resource was the wisdom of his whispering ancestors who guarded him from the pitfalls of the path of no return.
In a gaze into the morning sunlight shining just off the side of the balcony providing a comforting blanket of warmth and calm. Admittedly, life has been amazingly interesting.
I believe that I lived it rather than just survived it. One day I’ll enjoy telling my grandkids, just like George, about my 80 years of historical events and share lemonade in a Mason jar on my front porch downloading all of the knowledge and wisdom that had been bestowed upon me.
Caught up in a gaze Heartwell heard sounds of several footsteps coming in his direction, which would surely mark the end of peace and solitude. It would be time to be daddy and husband soon, but his day had started just perfectly, and his family would just add the icing to the cake. Yes this would be unlike any of his other birthdays in his life.
“Honey, are you ready for breakfast? What are you doing out there all by yourself anyway?”
“Nothin! Just, sittin up lookin”! Yeah, I’m ready for that good grub you’re serving in that kitchen. Baby, have I ever told you that I really love your cooking?