Tag Archives: Neighbors

Willie Mae Jackson Ferguson, Neighbor-Sister

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willie maeI love this picture of Willie, she’s such a beauty, and it’s taken in her backyard in the greenery of mid-summer. It’s a sight for sore eyes during this dreary, seemingly endless Minneapolis winter. I was going to say “Minnesota Winter,” but there’s something significant about a “Minneapolis Winter.” Right now it’s mid-February and there’s snow piled several feet high all through our alleyway, which is the lifeline and social connector in our South Minneapolis neighborhood. We neighbors, all really good friends, have very short conversations outside this time of year; especially this winter, which has been brutally cold. It’s this time of year that I yearn for our long hang-outs and gab sessions in the alley during all our other seasons.

Willie’s one of the main alley leaders I’d say, having some seniority in the neighborhood. We are really lucky to have moved into a very close-knit little community, but I feel especially fortunate to live three houses down from Ms. Willie Mae. We are kindred spirits, truly. Ok, well, she’s more of a church-goer than I am, but you know, we are sort of sympatico in many respects. We both come from large families and always felt very responsible for our sibs when we were growing up. We had complicated relationships with our dads. And our moms. And in the 23 years I’ve known Willie, we still keep coming up with new things that we find out about each other that we have in common.

We both quit drinking a long, long time ago, and we talk about that all the time. We really had some similar experiences about our demons with alcohol – mostly that we never thought we had a problem with it because we always held down responsible jobs, paid our bills, etc. But we really weren’t ok…and something told us we needed to stop. Is that a God thing? Willie thinks so.

The thing that I respect the most about Willie is that she is a dedicated hospice nurse. I think there is nothing nobler or more meaningful than hospice care – and Willie is particularly gifted in her profession. She was my father-in-law’s nurse during his last weeks – her care eased his pain and that of our whole family – we are so grateful for the amount of love and compassion he was shown.

Now here’s another thing about Willie – since this is a Willie Blog – she is one of the best moms I’ve ever known. Sixteen years ago, she and her ex adopted a little baby who they named after his dad, Bobby, and, well, Bobby is Willie’s number one priority, hands down. He has turned out to be a really great kid. We always kid around that it takes an alley to raise a child.

I can’t think of Willie without thinking of the huge feasts she puts on. We typically spend holidays with Willie and Bobby (and their friends and family, and other neighbors) and Willie spends days cooking, and cooking, and cooking. She’ll roast a turkey, have fried chicken, collard greens, baked beans, cornbread, hamhocks, mac & cheese (Bobby food), a veggie tray (for those of us watching our calories), chocolate cake, and oh god I’m getting heartburn just thinking about it. And she watches everyone’s plate to make sure you got a bit of everything, and that you went and got seconds. How do you spell relief?

When you call Willie and get her voice mail, at the end she always says “…and have a blessed day.” Well, blessed is what I feel about having a neighbor sister like Willie. Yup, pretty blessed!

David Chung, Pimp Daddy

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Mr. Chung wearing a festive shirt – must have been a special occasion.

Ok, so he’s not really a pimp, actually, he’s not even anyone’s daddy, but he’s the one and only David Chung, King of the Alleyway between the 3600 block of Pleasant and Pillsbury Avenues in South Minneapolis. Born in Guyana to parents of African and Chinese lineage, David is one bad mother-shut-your-mouth. He fights crime, occasionally wielding real jungle-gnashing machetes to scare off any would-be graffiti taggers or the crazy person who would dare think of breaking into a garage around our ‘hood. But let me get back to the pimp daddy thing.  When David meets new people he loves to tell them, in his very heavy Caribbean accent, that he pimps out his bitch, Suki. He does this to see if he can shock them — Suki is his little Yorkshire Terrier. Then he goes into a strange spiel about how he’s the president of the Tri-Sexual Nation, which has something to do with dogs. That’s when we tell him to shut up, and that he’s getting too weird. Then he’ll just start laughing and talk about how he’s cousins with Dick Cheney and George W. Bush, and brothers with Howard Stern. This makes some kind of sense to him. My husband and I have stopped asking him to explain what he’s talking about – we’ve lived behind him now for 21 years and it’s just no use – it’s sort of like talking to the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland. But Mr. Chung has a 14-karat heart of gold and would give us the shirt off his back, that is, if he ever wore a shirt. He is usually only clad in ripped up overalls which he purchased at Kaplan Brothers in 1979. David and his wife, Barbara (“Baaa baah raaa” in Guyanan), own 3 or 4 properties and are both retired, they have plenty of funds and resources, but he is just as stubborn as a toddler about wearing any of the new clothes that Barbara is always trying to get him to wear. “I am just getting these overalls broken in!” or “In the jungle we didn’t need so many clothes!” are some of his protests. Here is David’s idea of shopping: he and Suki patrol the alley every night looking for treasures that people throw out – things like broken lamps and busted computers. David takes everything back to his garage – we call him the Fred Sanford of South Minneapolis. “People throw out perfectly good stuff!” David will exclaim. “I started the whole recycling thing” is another of his frequent quotes. Who knows? Maybe he did! We love David and are so very lucky to have landed in his neighborhood, machetes and all.