by Lawrence Christopher
Mrs. Ethel "Granny T" Tatum
80 year-old Nanny
Jacob and Ethel Tatum had one son named Jacob, junior. Jacob, senior died of cancer before seeing his son become a man. Ethel was left to live on a military stipend her husband earned while serving in the United States Army. The stipend was barely enough to live comfortably, so Ethel took a job as a nanny, caring for and rearing the children of the wealthy white Landenberg family. The Landenbergs had two children, Emerson and Emily.
Emerson and Emily dubbed Ethel Tatum with the name Granny T. Granny T raised and loved those children as if they were her own. The children and the Landenbergs reciprocated the sentiment toward Granny T and her son Jacob, Jr. When Emerson and Emily had children of their own, they also looked to Granny T to raise them.
Jacob, Tatum, Jr. married Kathleen and they had four boys, Cleavon, Nathan, Andrew and Roderick Tatum. While returning from a vacation trip without the boys, the Tatums were killed in a head on automobile collision. Grandma Tatum becomes Granny T to her four grandsons.
Roderick "Ricky" Tatum
17 years-of age AAAA High School Basketball all-star
Sky High Rick Tatum charges in through the front door of his grandmother's home like the power guard he is on the basketball court for his high school Bulldogs. Being named an All-City, All-State and All USA Basketball Star, isn't what has Ricky bounding through the house shouting for his Granny T. No; what has the given name Roderick Tatum the most excited he's been since winning the state championship game, is the news he is dying to tell his grandmother.
"GRANNY T! GRANNY T!" He shouts at the top of his lungs as he moves by leaps and bounds in his search.
"What is it boy?" Answers the old, but surprisingly spry eighty years-of-age woman.
"Boy, you done scared me half to death, now you want to play guessin' games. So what is it?"
"Coach got a phone call today, from the NBA. Somebody is interested in drafting me into the pros Granny T. THE PROS!"
"That's good honey. But what you gonna do 'bout college?"
"What do I need college for if I'm going to be making millions. Do you hear me? Millions!"
"'He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver; nor he that loveth abundance with increase: this is also vanity.' That's Ecclesiastes five and ten." Grand Mother Tatum, "Granny T, confidently quotes the bible.
Her confidence stems from years of bible study and having read the "good book" from cover to cover a half a dozen times. Ricky who is normally an attentive and respectful grandchild to his grandmother has a deaf ear. All he now hears is the sound of "cha-ching".
"Granny T, now you don't have to work for the Landenbergs anymore, watching their kids," proclaims Ricky.
"I'm gonna tell you like I told your brothers, I'm working for Mr. and Mrs. L cause I want to. They kids is like my own. I was there when they were born. And they takes care of me like I'm family. I goes on trips with them to Paris and Italy and them places." Responds the proud elder.
"Drew or Cleavon could have taken you to them places. But it doesn't matter, because now I can." Ricky makes claim of his oldest brother Cleavon and Drew, the brother closest to him in age.
"Well, ain't none of them did, so there. Speakin' of your brothers, I s'pose you ought to call, and tell 'em your news, and see what they have to say."
Andrew "Drew" Tatum
25 years-of-age Consultant
The computer software consultant is packing his carry-on bag when his cellular phone begins ringing. He answers thinking it is his driver letting him know that he is out in front of his high-rise downtown loft. Andrew Tatum is on his way to Sydney, Australia for an assignment.
"Yes, this is Andrew Tatum," answer the clean cut 25 years-of-age young man, who graduated top of his class from Dartmouth."
"Drew man, you sound white as hell."
"What do you want punk? I'm on my way to the airport."
"Guess what?" asks the younger brother.
"I don't have time for this, roach."
"Somebody from the NBA called my coach today. I might be going pro."
"For real. Coach wouldn't tell me who, because of some legal issues he said. He told me to go home and talk it over with my family."
"Well go ahead baby brother. I'm proud of you. I say go for it."
"You ain't going to trip about me skipping college?"
"College will be there. The window of opportunity to play in the NBA may not."
"So will you help me talk to the Judge, cause you know how he is?"
"I don't know Ricky. I'm headed out of the country. I'm not sure when I'll be back. Have you told Nate?"
"Nah, just Granny T and you.
"What did she say?"
"You know Granny T. She started quoting scripture and then she told me to call you guys."
"Try and get Granny T and Nate on your side before you go to Cleavon. That will help. Hold on."
Drew gets another call on his phone and clicks over. Ricky loves Drew, who is his favorite brother. Drew spoils Ricky with gifts and by taking him malls shopping. Without having to go on a shopping spree, Drew's hand-me-downs are designer labeled and practically brand new. When Drew is traveling, he has Ricky stop by his loft to check on things and to feed his exotic fish. Neither Nate nor Cleavon give Ricky that much freedom and responsibility of trust.
"Hey Ricky man, my ride is outside and have to go. I will call you back. Call Nate."
"Awright. Hey Drew, can I drive your car?"
"Yeah, but the last time I let you drive it, the guys found a pair of thongs when I had it detailed."
"Hey, don't try and play me like that. I left them where I found them."
Nathan "Nate" Tatum
32 years-of-age Consumer Banker
It was either Nathan or Andrew who was going to be saddled with the middle child syndrome. The child, who is all but forgotten, living in the shadow of one of the other siblings bore on either side of him. In the Tatum family, it is Nathan. Thirty-two years-of-age and Nathan is a Consumer Banker. That is the title on his business card. In Nathan's eyes, it reads glorified customer service representative. He does have a desk, as long as he is at work to occupy it. Otherwise, it goes to the next Consum er Banker working.
Nathan has nothing to be ashamed of. He began working for First Trust Bank as an intern over the summer. His intern position was as a teller. From performing well he was asked to come back for the next three summers to intern and during his senior year he was permanently hired. His mother and father were very proud of him. During those days, being a banker was a prestige job. Nathan soon learned that during his slow professional climb and low earnings, that it's more important to have pressed ham than pr estige. At least he could eat pressed ham.
Nathan attended the local college, while working at the bank. The full-time commitment of school and work made for a year delayed graduation with a business degree. Despite the college degree, Nathan made mediocre advances up the career ladder. But, what is the measure of success?
Is it being employed by a national bank? Is it being married with two children, living in suburbia? Nathan's wife works as a paralegal. They have two cars and take a family vacation each year. Nathan has saw to it that they have some money invested to retire on. It isn't enough.
"This is Mr. Tatum, may I help you?" Nathan greets the telephone caller.
"Nate, it's Ricky. You got a minute?" The younger brother asks. Nathan looks over to the couple waiting.
"Yeah, but make it quick."
"First, I need your help, then I need to tell you something."
"Damn, what have you done this time?"
"Nothing wrong. Why you always assuming I did something?"
"You said that you need my help."
"I need you to talk to the Judge for me." The Judge is the oldest of the Tatum boys; Municipal Court Judge Cleavon Tatum.
"The NBA is interested in me. I need you to help me talk him in letting me play."
Not again is what Nathan is thinking. Not another one of his siblings is going to outshine him by having success fall in his lap. First it was The Judge, who was nurtured by the Landenbergs, the family Granny T nannies for. Then, there is Andrew, who piggybacked on every Affirmative Action program available, booming economy and job market. Even though it wasn't needed because Andrew is an academic marvel, with business savvy to match. And now, Roderick may be playing professional basketball. As with Andr ew, Roderick doesn't need the break of any kind, as he too is an honor student with vast potential. Yes, there is some resentment.
"No. I won't do it," replies Nathan. "You need to take your butt to college."
"What? I can't believe you. I'm talking about the pros Nate. I'm talking about some real cheddar, not what you make," retorts the disrespectful youth.
"WHAT DID YOU SAY?" Shouts Nathan before realizing that the young couple still waiting is closely observing him. "Listen Ricky, don't expect me to help you one bit. I think I've done more than my share."
Nathan hangs up the phone in disgust. The "more than his share" that Nathan is referring to, is his monthly financial contribution to the established college fund for Ricky by the brothers. When their parents died when Ricky was ten years of age, the brothers began putting money in to a savings account on his behalf. Later, Andrew moved the money into a CD account.
What calmed Nathan's temperament from his encounter with his unappreciative younger brother, is the idea of cashing in the CD and using the money to help him with his own financial woes. If Ricky does go to the NBA, then he wouldn't need the money, contemplates Nathan. There is another incentive for Nathan to rethink his position regarding Ricky and his going to the NBA. No one else knows why, especially the Judge.
Judge Cleavon Tatum
48 years-of-age Municipal Court Judge
His Honor, The Judge, a title officially bestowed upon Cleavon Tatum with his appointment to the Odelot municipal courts, becoming the towns first black judge. The family used the moniker as an endearing endorsement. Today, Judge Cleavon Clarence Tatum demands to be addressed by his title from his subordinates, peers and family as a show of respect.
Judge Tatum graduated from Odelot University with a Law degree and from Yale Law School. His schooling was financed in part by an endowment set up by the Landenbergs. The Landenbergs saw promise in Judge Tatum as a youth, then known as Cleave. So much so, they gave him his first job as the family chauffeur. It was from his chauffeur position that he was afforded the luxury of being close to the daughter Emily Landenberg.
A secret romance was carried on right under the nose of the family, in the backseat of the Rolls Royce or on hot summer nights on the gazebo in the back of the Landenberg's home. The romance lasted through the years. After graduating from Yale, Cleave asked Mr. Landenberg for his daughter's hand in marriage. Because he had shown himself academically worthy, Mr. Landenberg conceded.
There was one caveat to Mr. Landenberg's blessing of the marriage. That caveat being, they must not have any children. Without specifically stating why, Clevon knew Mr. Landenberg wanted to keep the "bloodline" pure. Cleave, took the necessary steps to make sure that he kept that promise. Emily Landenberg never knew. To insure that his daughter would be provided for, Judge Tatums' first job was within the law offices of the Landenberg's.
The closest Judge Cleavon and Emily Tatum came to becoming parents, is when they obtain the custody of Roderick Tatum. They became his legal guardians when Jacob, Jr. and Kathleen Tatum died. The Judge allowed Ricky to live with their father's grandmother Granny T because he didn't feel comfortable having his brother moving into his large four bedroom house in an old, all white neighborhood. The Judge, being present "black" company excluded.
Even at the age of ten, Ricky had a love for playing basketball and the Judge shuttered at the idea of a goal post standing or hoop hanging in his backyard. What would his old money, white neighbors think? Then and there became the estranged relationship between the Tatum brothers.
Andrew, who was just finishing high school, volunteered to stay with Granny T even without the Judge's recommendation. Over the summer, is when Drew and Ricky bonded as brothers. But Andrew went away to Dartmouth the following school year. Nathan was married and living on his own. Work, school and his own family kept him from spending much time with Ricky.
The Judge saw the responsibility of the ten years of age Ricky as a painful reminder of his promise made to Mr. Landenberg. Having Ricky in the house would also be painful for his wife, knowing that he would not, could not give her children of her own. Emily Landenberg loved Ricky as a mother would love a child nonetheless. Despite the emotional pain Ricky brought to the Judge, he maintained being the ruling patriarch in decisions involving Ricky's life.
The Family Meeting
Whenever an issue would effect the family, Jacob Jr. and Kathleen Tatum would convene a family meeting to discuss or inform everyone. This was how it was when the Tatum men were boys, the tradition established and respected. No matter what was planned or scheduled, everyone of the Tatum household made the family meeting whether they wanted to or not. Impromptu family meetings interrupted many sports games and practices and put on hold plenty of dates.
Judge Tatum has decided to resurrect the tradition. In the matter of Roderick "Ricky" Tatum foregoing college to play in the NBA has been called to order. Each brother is notified of the time and place of the family meeting. Emily Tatum saw to that. Mandatory attendance is counted upon. The time, four o'clock p.m. and the place, the Judge's home. The first to arrive is Nathan and his wife Yvonne and children. The housekeeper greets them.
"Afternoon Mister and Misses Tatum," greets Consuela.
"Que' pasa, Consuela," Nathan says flirtatiously, using the little bit of Spanish he knows. Consuela smiles in response, not wanting to offend his wife.
"The Judge says for you to wait in the parlor until everyone has come. The children can play out back."
The Judge sits at his large mahogany desk, in his Brooks Brother's suit, Johnston and Murphy wingtip shoes, puffing on his pipe. Before him on his desk is the contents of an envelope received by Ricky's High School basketball coach. Statistic sheets on Ricky Tatum.
Player File #7
The career highlights section is a full page and a half, with highest scores ever and other allocates of his game. With what he knows of the sport of basketball, even the Judge is impressed of his brother's achievements. He recalls seeing his brother at the age of five leaping over furniture. Put a basketball in Ricky's hand and he seems to soar to even greater leaps and heights toward the basketball hoop. Still, the Judge will not dissuade from his position of not allowing Roderick forego college. As fa r as the Judge is concerned, basketball is a game of leisure.
How can shooting a basketball be compared to earning a living like his grandfather, who worked as a janitor, once returning from fighting in a war? Dribbling a ball up and down a court could not equate to the sweat of the brow on Jacob and Kathleen Tatum while working in their owned and operated dry cleaning and laundry business. Driving to the hoop isn't the same as the nights and weekends the Judge spent as a young man, behind the wheel chauffeuring the Landenbergs about the city. No.
As far as the Judge is concerned, this family meeting is a mere formality. His mind is made up. Roderick is going to college and earn a degree just like the rest of the brothers.
"Where is the Judge?" Nathan asked Consuela.
"He's in his study." She answers.
Nathan isn't too anxious to see his brother. The last couple of times they spoke were not under the most favorable circumstances. The first was when Nathan called upon the Judge for legal advice involving what Nathan perceived to be a case of racial discrimination. In the employee break room at the bank a cartoon had been posted on the bulletin board. The cartoon was of a raccoon drawn with black American features and dressed in hip-hop clothing. Beneath the cartoon was the caption; "What do you call a w ild animal that loves to sing? A rap-coon."
Instead of giving any legal advice the Judge told Nathan to "stop being so sensitive, like the rest of the cry baby black Americans. You want equal opportunity, but can't take a joke. The real joke is, that there is no such thing as equal opportunity in America." Nathan was left with a feeling of despair, realizing that he may have lost touch with his big brother and there was nothing that he could call upon him for. Unfortunately, there was another matter in which Nathan had to call upon the Judge.
His one phone call allowed from the police station was to the Judge at one o'clock in the morning. Nathan had been picked up for solicitation of an undercover police officer for prostitution. The call was difficult for Nathan to make, and even more difficult for the Judge to accept. Getting Nathan released and having the incident removed from this record cost the Judge more than few favors that he did not have to call upon. It cost him embarrassment among his peers. That was something Nathan could not ev er repay or make up to the Judge. The two brothers have not spoken since.
Andrew rebels against the norm and tradition. He seldom refers to the Judge by his title. On the off chance that Andrew and the Judge would speak, Drew would slip and call him Cleave. It wasn't done to disrespect, but to remind the Judge that "he wasn't all that."
As for upholding tradition, Andrew would do whatever he had to do that was in his best interest. He respected authority and his superiors on the job, not the arrogant and pompous. Andrew could not physically attend the family meeting being that he was still working from another continent in the Pacific. He would surely call, being that the nature of the meeting involved Ricky's future.
Ricky and Granny T arrive at the Judge's home in Andrew's convertible BMW M Roadster. Before turning off the car's engine, Ricky sit listening to the end of Anita Baker singing "Sometimes." Despite his youth, Ricky has an appreciation for quality music. This being another trait he picked up from his brother Drew. Drew owns every compact disc with Anita Baker on it, including the Chapter 8 CD, which has Anita's breakout song "I Just Wanna Be Your Girl."
Granny T gazes upon Ricky who feels uneasy about the meeting. He knows the odds are against him and Drew isn't around to lend his support. Granny speaks to give Ricky some encouragement.
"Don't worry chile. It's going to be okay. I know you wanna play ball. But if your brothers decided againit, go on to some school and be the best ball player on the team. It don't matter where you play or who you playing for, just as long as you play your best. What's this girl name here who mumbling when she sing?"
Ricky smiles, "Anita Baker."
"Listen to what she says in that song of hers, 'hold on a little longer, try to be a little stronger and you can win'."
"Thanks Granny." Ricky leans over and kisses her on her cheek.
Seeming effortlessly, Ricky hops out of the top down convertible without opening the door. He goes around the car, opens his grandmother's door, and assists her out. With Granny T on his arm, Ricky takes a deep breath and makes his way up the sidewalk to his brother's front door.
The three Tatum brothers sit in the Judge's personal chambers, his den. Stoic and authoritative, the Judge presides over the family meeting as if he were handling a court case. Nathan is mulling over his position of neutrality, not wanting to be perceived eager to financially manage his younger brother's anticipated seven-figure salary. Ricky is intimidated by the Judge, as most people are. The Judge looks up from the folder in front of him.
"It appears that Andrew has decided not to participate in these proceedings. I will hear arguments from Nathan, then from you Roderick." The Judge informed his brothers as if they were prosecutor and defense attorneys.
"Well, there is no question as to the value of a college education. Ricky, all of us are proof of that. You should have something to fall back on if you don't make it in the NBA. You don't hear about those who didn't fare well. Many first round draft picks ended up sitting on the bench, being traded or simply leaving the league. That's when an education comes in handy.
"But, who is to say when that education has to be obtained. Hall of Famer, Isaiah Thomas is a prime example. He finished school while playing for the Pistons, because he promised his grandmother that he would. Now look at him. He's just as successful after his playing days.
"I say, maybe we should let him forego college. His first year salary will more than pay for his tuition. Even at the finest institute of learning. I'm willing to help him with handling his money, if he needs me." Nathan ends his opening argument with a pitch for his services.
The Judge frowns with disdain. Ricky is unsure of what benefit his brother just gave. Just as the Judge is about to speak, the phone rings. Emily Tatum enters the den announcing that Andrew is on hold. The Judge clears his throat by grunting. He presses the flashing line, activating the speakerphone. Ricky is grinning from ear to ear as the Judge addresses the caller.
"I hope we didn't interrupt your important schedule to join us."
"Do you know what time it is here? It's tomorrow as far as you guys are concerned." Replies Drew.
"Nonetheless, you knew what time the family meeting started. You should be prompt."
"So is it over, Cleave?" Nate and Ricky look at one another, to confirm that they heard what they thought they heard. Then they brave a glance at the Judge. The Judge's temples are pulsating.
"Hello, is anyone there?" Asks Drew
"We're here Drew. It's Ricky." The younger brother answers to head off a feud.
The Judge reaches for a missing gavel. He grabs a brass mallard paperweight and pounds it on his desk.
"ORDER! Order!" The Judge shouts. "QUIT this buffoonery! This is exactly why I've decided that Roderick will not be skipping college. You're not mature enough." Exclaims the Judge.
"What?" Offers Ricky who is stunned by the proclamation made by the Judge. "What do you mean, you decided. I thought that this family meeting was for us to talk about it."
"I am your legal guardian and I have the final ruling on what goes on with your life. You kids today don't know the meaning of dedicated hard work. No, everybody wants to be a millionaire without having to work for it."
"This isn't a courtroom. You can't do this!"
"I can and I have. You are going to college."
Ricky looked to Nathan who offered a weak plea for calm. Andrew was shouting through the speakerphone for "Clevon" to "quit tripping." The Judge silenced Andrew by disconnecting the call. Ricky became outraged watching the Judge callously dismiss the one sibling he adored and respected. A glance in the direction of Nathan, Ricky found a cowering man twiddling his thumb.
With nowhere to turn, Ricky bolted out of the room. Nathan called out to him. The Judge sits quietly. Ricky's momentum carries him out of the house. Emily and Granny T chase after, but are no match for his youth and ability. Three feet from the car, Ricky leaps with the agility of a cat, landing sure-footed onto the driver's side seat. With equal quickness, he drops in the car and has its engine revving to challenge the carmaker's 0-60 in 5.2 seconds performance claim.
The car and its distraught passenger pull off speeding down the street in the suburban neighborhood. Long blocks and curves are taken at top speed by the bulldog looking car. The road or the neighbors aren't used to such high speed driving, especially the elderly man who pulls out of his drive just as Ricky rounds a blind turn.
By the time Ricky sees the late model Cadillac, it is too late. All he can do is slam on the breaks and veer on to a well-manicured lawn through bushes and hedges, to speed head on into a massive tree. The car hood crinkled like a paper fan. The remaining front end of the car hugs the tree as if it were hanging on for dear life saying, "thank you, thank you, thank you for stopping us," . . . speaking of dear life.
Family, friends and fans fill the school field house to the rafters. Everyone who knew him wanted to be at the ceremony. The murmurs and muffling collectively grew to a crescendo, before the start of the program. The ceremony began with the musical intro of the last song Roderick "Sky High" Tatum listened to before that fateful day. Anita Baker's, "Sometime":
Everybody wants to be a winner and take their place at the top
Everyone wants their name up in lights, for the good times never stop
Sometimes the bad luck will creep up and catch you by surprise
Your mind's confused, you feel misused
You've got to leave those troubles behind
Chorus: "Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose
A large portion of those in attendance sang the popular song until the very last chorus. Tears flowed heavily from those who had grown to know and love the young sports superstar. Losing him in their lives so early brought mixed feelings for some. To the podium came an important person to say his goodbye.
"With the full blessing and support of my family, I have decided to take my talent to the NBA," announces a teary eyed Sky High Ricky Tatum before a people packed field house. Cheers and applause pour out in support of the undeniably talented athlete.
"And, whichever team drafts me, wherever that may take me, I will enroll as a part-time student at the local college or university to further my education." Now the crowd comes to their feet in an ovation to the wise young man.
Ricky "Sky High" Tatum survived the car crash by living up to his nickname by leaping from the car as it plowed through the hedges. He landed in the bushes, suffering only a few scratches and scrapes. When the Judge learned that it was Ricky's God-given ability that saved his life, he recanted his ruling of not letting him play in the NBA. Nathan did some soul searching, realizing how close he came to losing his baby brother. Andrew put in for only stateside assignments, not wanting to ever be a continen t away from his brothers.