Lea Flats was built by my great grandfather in the early 1900s and is a rather little known piece of Owensboro history. Built on the corner of 3rd and St. Elizabeth Streets, the property was home to my great grandmother and her family and for many years served as a boarding house for single men. It was where my dad was raised following the death of his mom at a young age and it is where I spent many hours with my great aunt, Daisy Lea Ward, who took over care of the residence following her mother’s death. It is all part of a past that now seems like several lifetimes ago. The place my dad called home was razed decades ago, but, now and then a memory will pop into my head of that wonderful time of my life and of my Aunt Daisy and my dad.
Chris Curry was an African-American gentleman who began working for my great-grandmother at Lea Flats in the 1930s and a person I came to know growing up. He always spoke kindly to me (called me “Stevie”) whenever we visited and I loved the way my dad and he would carry on with each other, evidence of the unspoken affection they had for one another. Since my dad did not have a close relationship with his father, it would seem that Chris was one of the few male role models in his life and I’m certain one of the reasons for their close connection.
My dad, through his actions, made it clear to me that the color of one’s skin was not a reason to not befriend a person and, in the case of Chris, love them like family. That message was never made more clear to me than in 1984 when my Aunt Daisy passed away. In a moment that I will cherish forever, my dad did something that helped me understand the insanity of racism and how skin pigmentation can disappear when you love someone.
As people entered the funeral services for my Aunt Daisy, we were all surprised to see Chris arrive, having walked several miles from the west end of town to pay his respects. It had been an oversight on my dad’s part to not think Chris would need a ride to the funeral since he did not drive. I remember him apologizing to Chris for not giving him a ride, an apology that the gentle soul said was unnecessary. But, there he was in a suit and tie and as the funeral director instructed family to move into the private side room to begin the service, the moment I will never forget took place.
I loved my Aunt Daisy dearly and she was more of a grandmother to me than a great-aunt. Her passing hit me hard and I cried almost uncontrollably when she died. I remember standing near my father and Chris as the service was about to begin and as visitors walked toward their seats, I noticed Chris move toward his seat in the main sitting area. As our family started moving to the side room, I happened to see my dad take Chris by the hand and say, “Chris! You are family.”, and holding his hand he walked him into the private family room. There Chris sat with us – not as an employee, not as a black man, but as a member of our family. I never loved my father more than at that moment.
Chris passed away several years later and I regret not being able to attend his funeral. I do believe that one day we will meet again and he will get the chance to call me “Stevie” just like he did when I was a boy.
And I look forward to calling him “family”.
Love – no matter what!