Beth Fine

Educational Fiction Author – Serious Thinker – Child at Heart

IMASODE VI: Danger Starts in Detroit – 2nd Excerpt

Hope grows for Brady Bee who, although wrongfully committed to prison for eight years, is released through Ima Purple’s reworking his case during IMASODE V: Anti-Belle of Antebellum Atlanta.  Finally,  he begins his new life in Detroit where his talent gets him an audition at MoTown, but his soft heart toward a young gangster gets him and Ima into deep, deep trouble. Ima notices whenever Brady fails to trust  his new found freedom, his fragile confidence and long isolation with inmates seem to cause his dialect to thicken.

Growing in Greenfield Village

After filling out employment forms at Greenfield Village, Rich and Brady took a short class in dealing with emergencies and irate customers. Then the friends separated to go to their own assignments. The personnel office sent Rich to the Carriage Barn and told Brady to sit down and wait. He sat quietly, fully expecting to be rejected due to his color. But when he learned what would happen next, it was far worse than someone simply making an excuse not to hire him.

Although Brady had the perfect body size and personality for security work, guards went through a rigorous selection process. After all, Greenfield Village visitors brought their children and expected safety as well as fun. The management insisted all security applicants take a polygraph test. Brady’s heart sank. Who would believe an ex-con? How could that prove that he was worth his salt.

Deciding to be totally honest about his stint in prison, he reminded the examiner that the police had cleared him of all charges. Still, as the man wrapped a blood pressure band around the applicant’s arm and placed electrodes on his skin, Brady admitted the process gave him the heebie-jeebies. He knew this apparatus would not electrocute him, but it reminded him of such things. He broke out in a sweat. His heart pounded. Even so, confessing to all his mischief proved a good strategy. The test results said he had not lied.

Soon outfitted with a uniform, radio, and Billy club for a weapon, Brady proudly began his orientation. The main office assigned another officer named Oliver to show him the ropes. Oliver attended a nearby college and worked every season at the Village. First off, he drove Brady to the Ford Museum a short distance away. They entered a huge warehouse type building with a high ceiling.

“I don’t know where you’ll be assigned; but one thing I do know. You’ll be standing around all day and will have to answer dozens of crazy questions. Guests think if you work for Ford, you know everything about everything. So let’s start with Henry Ford. He was an uneducated genius but a very practical man. His assembly line idea transformed American industry for more than just making cars. Food companies adapted his ideas to their production lines of filling and sealing cans.”

“I know about dat bacuz Mr. Beau took me to see the Coca Cola assembly line in Atlanta,” Brady related.

“Absolutely, so you already understand. Now, Ford used his philosophy to display our history here at his Museum and at the Village. He clustered all of our nation’s major inventions under one roof. That way Americans need only come to one place. His own crown jewel invention was the Model T known as the Tin Lizzy, the first car from a plant using assembly line methods. His process lowered the cost enough so even workers could buy it.”

“I ‘member dat too from school.”

“On your day off, go see the assembly plant over at Willow Run. It’ll knock your socks off… or as the hippies today say, ‘It’ll blow your mind,’” Oliver winked.

“I’m gonna do dat. It sounds far out. You know, I’m gonna like working yere.”

Brady felt excited that an incredible job had dropped from the sky, that is with Mr. DuPlantis’ help. Inside he knew not every white man was a bigot; but still no one else except Mr. Beau had ever stepped up like that to help him. Now he knew two decent white men besides his grandpa Brody.

“After I graduate college, I want a job in Ford’s design department. I tell you, Brady, working for this company can give you more of a career than just being a security guard half the year. But even that’s helped me pay for my schooling.”

“You know a lot about dese old classic cars?”

“Yes, and you soon will too because we have these same cars at the Village. Now take the Model A. It came along in the late 1920s but so did the Great Depression. Then folks couldn’t afford the Model T or A.”

“I heard all about dat depressin’ at my school too.”

Before leaving the Museum, Oliver showed Brady the Spirit of St. Louis in which Charles Lindberg flew solo across the Atlantic in 1927, and the bus on which Rosa Parks rode bravely back in 1955.

“Both of them had guts: Lindberg for striking out in a single engine plane and Parks for refusing to move further back or give up her seat for a white man.”

“Yeah, I knows all about that little lady. So what yore tellin’ me is… Henry Ford built a car eber’one oughta be able afford. And Rosa Parks rode a bus that eber’one oughta be able to take any seat.”

“Hey, that’s a very accurate summary of what happened.”

The two guards left the Museum and returned to the Village. Brady noticed an enormous difference at once. Instead of single inventions like a car displayed for visitors to view, there were entire buildings surrounded by acres of land.

“Each building here represents the early beginnings of an industry,” Oliver started to explain the Village to Brady. “Some structures like the Wright Brothers Bicycle Shop got moved here from Dayton, Ohio. Others like the Philadelphia’s Independence Hall may look original but only replicate famous buildings.”

Thomas Edison’s lab from Menlo Park proved the most amazing sight for Brady. He wondered how this lab building, made mostly of glass, got dismantled and moved from New Jersey to this permanent site in Dearborn, Michigan, without breaking into a million pieces. He stood inside and felt almost reverent as if in a church, realizing that maybe right in this place, Edison had invented the light bulb.

Brady found out that Edison hailed from Port Huron, Michigan and had a long friendship with Ford. They had similar approaches to solving practical problems. “Oliver, do ya s’pose Michigan water contains liquid genius?”

The two young security guards passed by a blacksmith’s stall and then a glass blower’s studio. “I bet he gets plenty of bid’ness if a wind busts out windows at Edison’s lab.”
Oliver shrugged his shoulders. “Brady, you’re a strange cat… with the most curious thoughts and questions I’ve ever heard. Where did you get such ideas? They sound so innocent as if coming from someone just born last week.”

“Ina ways, dat’s possible. After eight years living with a pack of dogs, I feel brand new.”

When Oliver nodded like he understood, Brady figured the supervisor had clued Oliver in on his partner’s past.

They moved on down the road and poked their noses into a building with separated sections that told the story of cloth making. Brady saw his first carding mill where workers prepared wool and cotton to be spun into thread and then woven into material on a loom. In the early days of America, fingers never stopped working by the fire at night. He listened to the guides explain how the early carding and spinning machines replaced the laborious hours the colonists spent hand-carding and hand-spinning carded wool into thread at a wheel. Over in the weaving shop, more ladies worked quickly to pass the shuttle back and forth across the giant hand looms. Brady mused that with all that work, no one had yet made a shirt or a dress.

On Main Street, old-fashioned businesses encircled the Village Green. This resembled an imaginary town where the sights never change except for seasonal flowers. Brady wondered how different it would be to shop here in the olden days instead of a mall where mannequins had their clothes changed constantly.

The two young security guards strolled into an old apothecary store where large decanters, filled with mysterious ingredients, sat on high shelves. A soda fountain counter with stools facing a beveled mirrored wall lined one wall. A soda jerk waited on customers. Were this a real drugstore, Brady asked himself if he would be allowed to sit at the counter to eat a banana split? Or would a clerk ask him to leave like had happened to him before going off to prison? Maybe not, he thought. Things had begun to change. Maybe he had missed the hardest part of the Civil Rights Movement.

Out in front of an old-fashioned barbershop stood a group of men, singing “Down by the Old Millstream” in quartet style. Oliver described how the Village employed regular acts as well as guest performers, especially during the holiday seasons. Brady made a note to check out this place after his break.

At the end of Main Street lay the Suwannee Lagoon. Oliver took Brady on board the Steamboat. Hearing the banjo music and watching the paddle circulate made Brady home sick for a historical South of which he had heard but never experienced himself. To him the scenery seemed more like white folks’ nostalgia than Black folks’ reality. Off the main drag on short lanes sat more remote displays to view. A cluster of historic houses in the Porches & Parlors district made Brady feel right at home, as if he had gone back to Atlanta on a visit. This lane led to The Black History Trail. That interested Brady enough to make him promise himself to return and study it later. Brady decided Greenfield Village was not just a giant step back into history but a complete trip, better than a book or a movie. Around every bend, something different appeared.

Visitors could feel the heat coming off a wood-fired kiln where dishes were made or could hear the hissing from the steam engine at Smith’s Creek Depot. They could see the laughing faces of kids’ riding in a Model T. And best of all, they could smell the horses as they passed drawing carriages and wagons full of Village guests.

With the tour complete by late afternoon , the young men had to get back to the real work at hand. The Village had divided up areas into regular beats for the security guards to monitor. Brady’s start-up route included Main Street, Porches & Parlors, the Suwannee Lagoon, and the Classic Car Districts. Oliver told Brady to keep his eyes open for anything extraordinary; but as partners, they could radio each other for help if needed.

Oliver said goodbye to Brady at the break room where young employees sat visiting and eating snacks. Buying a vending machine sandwich that tasted like cardboard, Brady promised himself to bring his own food from then on.

After the break, Brady had a few minutes to kill before being back on duty. He wanted to inquire about the barbershop singers he had seen. Although their music sounded corny and old-fashioned, he didn’t care. Singing was singing and always better than silence. Since prison had stomped out all the music in his heart, he’d give anything just to sing, even barbershop, if need be. He found the quartet eating sandwiches under a tree.

“Hi fellas. I’m Brady Bee. Ya mind tellin’ me how ya get to sing yere?”

“I’m Ralph, those ugly fellows are Roscoe, Remmy, and Riley. We fill-in for the regular fellows on their day off.”

“How I’s get to join?” Brady asked boldly.

“Now, hold yore horses. Why ya such an anxious fellow?” asked Ralph, a tall, smiling, older Black man who seemed in charge.

“I’ve lost time and got to catch up,” admitted Brady.

“What’s your range?” asked Roscoe, another Black man about thirty.

“Range?”

“How high or low do place yore voice?”

“Last I recall in church, they said I sang Irish falsetto,” Brady swelled his chest.

The group burst into laughter which broke the ice. Their caution and unfriendliness slipped away. Obviously amused, they began to cajole Brady.

“So you’re an Irish falsetto. Can’t say I’ve heard of that,” said Ralph.

“Ralph. Don’t tease the boy. He means tenor,” said Remmy in an accepting tone.

Brady immediately liked Remmy all except he called him “boy.”

“I-r-r-rish Tenor-r-r, you say? I beg your pardon,” said Riley rolling his r’s a bit.

“Well, are you an Irishman or a Black man,” asked Roscoe, a bit chippie.

“Yeah man, tell us. Are you a tenor or falsetto?” asked Riley.

“Hey, Riley, you may have some competition if this kid is any good,” Ralph said, teasing. “Give us a sample of how you sound until time to drone out more barbershop quartette refrains.”

“You mean sing along… right now?” asked Brady.

“Naw, by yoreself, show us what you got,” said Ralph. ”What songs do you know that we might sing back up on?”

“Only one I can think of is ‘Swing Low.’ But it’s a church song. Okay?”

“Okay by me,” said Ralph seeming to warm up to Brady’s eagerness.

The barbershop quartet set their harmony notes on third intervals in the key of G and hummed a chord for accompaniment. “Hummmmmmmm.”

All of a sudden, Brady’s shyness evaporated. Confidently he opened his mouth, not sure of what might come out. From years in prison and stuffing songs back into his gut, he surprised himself by hitting the first note squarely. He sang a few lines, and a few people stopped to listen. He began to sweat, and his heart pounded. Yet, this time his body reacted not because he might tell a lie but for fear he might explode with excitement, seeing smiles shining back at him.


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