Ron’s Time Tunnel: Congo’s Cargo



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)



35 thoughts on “Ron’s Time Tunnel: Congo’s Cargo

  1. “Joie de vivre” love that expression and I think it captures everything I’ve read here. The expression reminds me of many folk around here the mismatch between fashion statements and economic circumstance. A great colourful post 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re welcome Original Lady G!

      I really would love to post anything that you write about Grandma and Granddaddy. Seriously, you have such a flair for storytelling and writing that I think that our readers would love it!

      Plus you were THERE as a first-hand witness to some great stories that Ron and I and the rest of the cousins have never heard.

      Just let me know if you ever feel like doing it.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Jet

    FYI -Ya’ll’s Grandaddy Leroy didn’t actually smoke that PA he didn’t even HOLD it between his lips, as you all may have determined, it just hung there until it burned out. I once asked him why he let that cigarette just hang off his lips? His replied, “Jut, I tell you what! Go around to Billy Bland’s store and buy yourself some rolling papers. Then buy a pouch of PA and some stick matches. Now go find a nice quiet spot to sit and roll your cigarette. Don’t worry, you don’t have to fill it in much just pinch the end. It’ll burn no matter what you do and you probably won’t even need a re-light. Just put the match to it and start smoking. Oh, you don’t have to be careful the way you smoke it. It’s not going to bite your tongue like some of the other tobaccos do. Now just sit back and enjoy your smoke. That’s all there is to it! Now you know why I just let it hang!” Then he resumed his tinkering! Loved That Guy! RIP Daddy, Happy Father’s Day!!
    If that’s the way it is, that’s probably why Congo carried it in his hip pocket as a part of his cargo!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. LOL! That’s a great story about Granddaddy.
      I think that you and I are technically saying the same thing only you said it much better.
      Anytime you want to share stories about him or Grandma I’d love to post them. Just let me know.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Anonymous

    Funny, I looked that up, too. Smile! Uncle was quite dapper even with his pint and his can of tobacco! I can still see him in a chair with his legs crossed rolling a cigarette not even slowed a bit by that half finger of his.

    Liked by 1 person

        1. Yep, that’s what you just said! And I reiterate. He definitely held them in his mouth. I seen that with my own eyes! Now, rather or not he smoked them, depends on what your meaning of smoked is. (Homage to Billy Bob Clinton) 😅

          Liked by 1 person

        2. Nah Cuz, just trynna be funny. Honestly, I can’t remember if he inhaled or just puffed on it. I don’t think I would have know the difference at that young age anyway. I’ll have to take Uncle Jim’s word. He should know!

          Liked by 1 person

        3. Once dad hipped me to that I started watching him and I never saw him inhale. The cigarette just sat in the side of his mouth and burned up.
          I was like, damn he ain’t really smoking 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

  4. Loved this post Ron!

    It made me think of the young rapper Jidenna who described himself as dressing like a dandy! I read somewhere that he got the idea during a college course when they were given the assignment to dress like somebody totally different.

    Well he did that and found that he liked it.

    Here’s a video of him. Since you have young adults you probably already have heard this. It’s about a year or so old. BTW his mom’s white and his dad is Nigerian. Pardon the graphic language.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes Cuz, I’ve heard of this guy. I actually like the song, “Classic Man” quite a bit. One of my favorite (out of a precious few) rap songs that I like. Leave it you to put a soundtrack to my post…love it😘

      Liked by 1 person

        1. We white!!!!!!!
          Uh huh, you didn’t think I’d go there did you?
          By the way, I bleeve I’ve traced one line of our ancestry all the way back to England.
          If Trump get’s elected Imma apply for British citizenship! LOL!!!!

          Liked by 1 person

  5. I love reading articles / blog content with substance that entertains and informs. I came across the SAPEURS three years ago while searching for a blog topic. I was intrigued by a culture of men who were hell bent on presenting themselves in the best light regardless of their economic status.

    You’ve done an awesome job delivering a piece of history that no doubt is entwined in many folks past.

    BTW – I love cousin Congo – he’s just type of dude that made a difference (good one) in the neighborhood.

    Liked by 2 people

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