Happy Mother’s Day to ...

The Oklahoman (Sunday) - - SPORTS -

Oklahoman columnist Berry Tramel salutes the mom of a lo­cal sports fig­ure.

Mar­jorie’s voice was known all over the neigh­bor­hood in the Robert Tay­lor Homes Project on Chicago’s South Side.

When dusk ar­rived and the out­side lights came on, Mar­jorie’s voice was sure to fol­low, echo­ing with al­lit­er­a­tion all four of her boys’ names. Sep­a­rated by just four years from old­est to youngest, the boys would be out play­ing, of­ten some kind of ball, but the games for them ended at sun­down. That’s when Mar­jorie would ap­pear on the porch, that voice ring­ing like a bell, and the en­tire neigh­bor­hood would know the boys’ time was up.

The rest of the trou­bled projects would keep hop­ping af­ter dark, of­ten with the el­e­ments that de­stroy lives, but the boys could only get as far as that porch af­ter dark­ness fell.

Their fa­ther was around some, but not liv­ing with them. It was up to Mar­jorie to keep them straight. Keep them out of the snares of Robert Tay­lor.

The high-rise hous­ing project was built in 1962, hard by the Dan Ryan Ex­press­way, along State Street be­tween Per­sh­ing Road and 54th Street.

At one time, Robert Tay­lor was Amer­ica’s largest public hous­ing devel­op­ment. It in­cluded 28 16-story build­ings, with a to­tal of 4,415 apart­ments. It stretched for two miles.

Robert Tay­lor was planned for 11,000 res­i­dents. But at one point, 27,000 peo­ple lived in those 28 build­ings.

Like the fa­mous Cabrini-Green projects on which “Good Times” was based, Robert Tay­lor was be­sieged by vi­o­lence, drugs and poverty. At times, only 5 per­cent of Robert Tay­lor res­i­dents were em­ployed. Forty per­cent of the homes were sin­gle-par­ent, fe­male-headed house­holds.

Not an idyl­lic place to grow up. But good rais­ing isn’t re­stricted by en­vi­ron­ment.

“A lot of stuff hap­pened once those lights came on,” said son No. 3. “Shoot­ings, drugs, gangs and stuff like that. Stuff you try to avoid, that was hard to avoid, be­cause you were sur­rounded.

“She took care of us all. She had a hard task. That was a rough area. But she was pretty strict. She looked out for us.”

Mar­jorie worked as a teacher’s as­sis­tant at nearby DuSable High School, where the boys at­tended. Money was tight. Mar­jorie made do.

“You didn’t know what you didn’t know,” said her son. “She made do. She made us feel like we had a lot. That’s a pow­er­ful tool, to not let your fam­ily know what you don’t have.”

Mar­jorie stretched the food as best she could and made it all taste scrump­tious. Chicken wings, red beans and rice, corn­bread, black-eyed peas. All these decades later, her son still reels off his fa­vorites with­out hav­ing to think.

Ev­ery week, Mar­jorie would march the boys to St. Mary’s Bap­tist Church, in time for Sun­day school, right through the play­grounds of Robert Tay­lor. Af­ter church and be­fore dark, that would be their do­main. But ev­ery­thing had its own time.

“She kept tabs on us,” said the son. “She didn’t let us out of her sight, that much. She knew what was go­ing on. She wasn’t go­ing to al­low us to get caught up in stuff.”

When son No. 3 went off to col­lege, in far­away Texas, he got home­sick quickly. In vir­tual shock, he called Mar­jorie, want­ing to come home. “Nope,” she said. “Can’t come back here. This is not the place. You got a schol­ar­ship, gotta stick it out. Gotta make it work.” Make it work he did. Mar­jorie grew up in An­der­son, Ken­tucky, but came to Chicago in her late teen years, got mar­ried, had the boys, split up with her hus­band and went about the busi­ness of mak­ing that voice syn­ony­mous with sun­set in the Robert Tay­lor projects.

Those high-rises are long ago, but Mar­jorie, 89 years young, still lives in the south side, only in a much nicer neigh­bor­hood, in a house on State Street.

Mar­jorie is quiet, like that third son. Stays within her­self. Doesn’t talk a lot, ex­cept maybe on the phone with friends. Goes to church, goes to the gro­cery store, reads the news­pa­per ev­ery day just like her son and sits by the fire, watch­ing ball­games, from the Thun­der to the Cubs.

And so on this fine Sun­day morn­ing, a tip of the cap to the woman who stood on the porch of the projects and called to come home Moses, Marvin, Mau­rice and Mack. Happy Mother’s Day to Mar­jorie Cheeks.

Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at btramel@oklahoman.com. He can be heard Mon­day through Fri­day from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports An­i­mal ra­dio net­work, in­clud­ing FM98.1. You can also view his per­son­al­ity page at newsok. com/berry­tramel.

Berry Tramel btramel@ oklahoman.com

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