Creek could sing but Congo…I’m not too sure about. I mentioned, in my previous story, “the choir,” which featured; my dad, Creek, Tat, Dump, Buster, Reatha, and Congo, but what I failed to mention is that, I would often attend their choir rehearsals. These rehearsals usually took place at Aunt Babe’s—she had a piano in her living room. I was a youngster then and can remember standing among those guys thinking how tall they all seemed to be to me. I mention my size, in contrast to the “big guys” because, one of my memories is of looking up at Congo, during a couple of those rehearsals and noting that, although his Adam’s Apple bounced energetically up and down the front of his slender neck, I could detect no sound coming from his mouth. I don’t know if he sang; tenor, baritone, or bass; or for that matter, if he sang at all, but one thing I do know is this, he had one hell of a “vibrato”.
Congo was my daddy’s first cousin on his daddy’s side. His name, of course, was not really “Congo,” that particular appellation was his sobriquet. Before writing this story, I had often wondered, from where this particular moniker had arisen, but after asking the question openly on social media, my brother had a partial answer to this mystery. He stated that the name came from a “curious type of socks that he often wore.” Of course, this information from my brother, raised more questions, in particular; what type of socks are “Congo socks?”
After a bit of research, I developed a theory as to the origin of Congo’s nickname. It seems that, during the early part of the 20th century, the French arrived in the African nation of Congo and established colonies there. With them they brought the French notion of “elegance.” The young men of the Bakongo ethnic group were impressed by the sartorial flair of the French and grew enamored enough of their style to copy it. The French, recognizing the desires of the impressionable young African men of the colony, took advantage of some of them by paying those who worked for them with second hand clothing. The clothing, worn by the French became highly desirable, whether second hand or new. Inspired by these “payments,” some of these young African men would spend all of their earnings for French-styled, three-piece suits, fedoras, canes and SILK SOCKS! Old Congo must have worn socks similar to the one’s the boys of Congo were wearing, hence the name, CONGO! Well anyway, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
These young African men formed a society called “La Sape.” The word SAPE is an acronym for “Société des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Élegantes” (The Society of Ambiance-Makers and Elegant People). The Republic of Congo became the country of SAPEURS—“dandies who don sharp get-ups despite the poverty, oppression, and conflict often surrounding them” (Wikipedia). The organization used dressing well as an act of defiance against difficult times. They lived in stark contrast to their oppressively impoverished environment. They were, as their name implies, “Ambiance Makers.” Our Congo, certainly was that! Whenever he arrived on the scene, he created his own, ambiance.
The motto of this group of men was, “’to defy circumstance and live with a ‘joie de vivre.’” In English, the French phrase, “Joie de vivre” translates as, “exuberant enjoyment of life.” Other synonyms for this phrase are: “joyfulness, cheerfulness, lightheartedness, happiness, joy, and high spirits.” Congo embodied all of these traits. These attributes, along with the little half-pint of gin in his back pocket, were, “CONGO’S CARGO.”
Congo was also an expert mechanic—a trade he learned in the Army—and a car aficionado. Once, the neighbors across the street from Uncle Croff’s and Aunt Annie Bell’s home had a visitor, who had arrived in a new, 1977, Lincoln Mark V, he knew immediately what type of car it was, even from across the street. Excitedly he exclaimed, “That’s a Mark FIVE! You can BLEEVE that!” Anytime Con made a definitive statement, he would punctuate it with his trademark exclamation, “YOU CAN BLEEVE THAT!
“Then I saw the Congo, creeping through the black;
Cutting through the forest with a golden track.
The gray sky opened like a new-rent veil
And showed the Apostles with their coats of mail.
In bright white steel they were seated round
And their fire-eyes watched where the Congo wound.
And the twelve Apostles, from their thrones on high
Thrilled all the forest with their heavenly cry…”
Here comes Congo in a new Mark V!
(Excerpted from Vachel Lindsay’s poem, with a twist from me)
CONGO’S CAR-GO! YOU CAN BLEEVE THAT!
NEXT WEEK: GRANDADDY CHARLIE: GEEEENIUS!