Chapter 2: the No-Daddy Blues
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- Chris Gardner, hoping to get Freddie to like him, does well in school – a haven where he seemed to thrive at learning and in social interactions.
- His early exposure to books paid off, and with his Momma’s continuing encouragement, he quickly mastered reading.
- While his accomplishments as an elementary school student obviously made Moms proud, it didn’t win him any points with Freddie (who could not read or write to save his life; and spent every minute waging a one-man anti-literacy campaign).
- Freddie’s attitude toward fatherhood is further revealed during a confrontation with Sam Salter, Ophelia’s daddy, after he offers $2 to Chris, who he calls “pretend son”.
- The ongoing saga with Freddie serves as a real turning point for Chris, who says: “My long-term plan had already been formulated, starting with the solemn promise I made to myself that when I grew up and had a son of my own, he would always know who I was and I would never disappear from his life.”
- Living with Freddie was scary. Chris worried about the safety of his mother, who now slept on the living room couch with her shoes on (in case she had to run, carrying the baby and dragging the rest of her kids out of the house fast).
- Each time that Freddie would explode and lash out physically, Chris’s mother would insist that he “ain’t coming back in here no more.” Each time, however, he would come back, apologetic, contrite, he’d start off being real nice. “But he was as predictable as rain. Nobody knew when he’d go off, but at some point everybody knew he would. Again, and again, and again.”
- It is Freddie’s influence that forces Chris to expand his long-term plan:
- “Not only was I going to make sure my children had a daddy, I was never going to be Freddie Triplett. I was never going to terrorize, threaten, harm, or abuse a woman or a child, and I was never going to drink so hard that I couldn’t account for my actions. This plan evolved over time as I studied at the virtual college of how to grow up and not be Freddie.”
- As an antidote to his feeling of powerlessness – and as a way to mess with Freddie – Chris began to read aloud, for no reason (realizing that Freddie couldn’t read).
- Years of abuse by Freddie led to Chris living on the edge. One evening he was summoned to the living room by the sound of a man’s voice that seemed to be threatening his mother. Chris responded by pulling out a butcher knife. The man was actually there to collect money or rent.
- Chris first learned the fundamentals of being an entrepreneur in the 1960s when he joined his cousin Terry and his cohorts as they tried their hands at junking. During his tour with the boys he helped them literally tear apart places that had been condemned, looking for materials. Terry convinced him this wasn’t stealing because they were really just helping the city to tear down condemned houses.
- The activity also introduced Chris to the main operating principle of marketplace: supply and demand.
- Chris’s mom was a true teacher, and was able to give her children real lessons without force. That wasn’t the case when Chris was caught stealing a nickel bag of Okey Doke cheese popcorn. After both the police and Momma received phone calls, she proceeded to whip his butt with all of the ferocity of a woman
hell-bent on making sure he would never steal again.
- The real fear of Chris’s mother is revealed when he finds a letter written in her careful, simple script. The contents were overwhelming, staggering, especially the sheer panic in the words at the very start of the letter: Help, I fear for my life.
- In response to the letter, Chris begins to concoct a lethal potion that will kill Freddie. In the end, the whole idea blows up.
- Tired of Freddie’s abusive ways, Chris’s mother follows through on a plan to burn down the house while Freddie is asleep. She launches her plan one night after Freddie returns home drunk and passes out.
- How he woke up and stopped the fire, Chris never did learn. But he did know that Freddie used the attempt on his life to support his claim that Bettye Jean had violated her parole from earlier imprisonment.
- She was sent back to prison.
Chapter 3: where’s momma?
- Losing his mother forced Chris to relocate – again. This time he moved in with Uncle Willie and Aunt Ella Mae (and would live there for most of the next three years).
- Before he can truly understand what’s happening, Chris is rocked again – this time when his sister, Ophelia, is sent away to some kind of detention home and school for girls who had trouble conforming to rules.
- On one occasion, Chris is called to the Palmer House Hotel – one of Chicago’s most luxurious, illustrious hotels, to help retrieve his Uncle Willie (who had earlier been diagnosed with some form of mental disorder). This call allowed Chris “the fortune to catch a glimpse of the stuff of which dreams were made.”
- It left a lasting impression on him in terms of where life could eventually lead.
- Chris’s relationship with his Uncle Henry was a special one. He was like a father to him. As it was stated in the book: “Uncle Henry not only made me feel special but allowed me, for the first time ever, to feel love for a man – really to fall in love, in the way that boys fall in love with their fathers and yearn to be like them one day.”
- Uncle Henry is revealed to be somewhat of a ladies’ man, perfectly attired, every crease, every cuff pressed to perfection.
- During a party that he hosted, the mood quickly changed when Uncle Henry played “Round Midnight” by Miles Davis. From then on, Chris and his uncle had Miles Davis in common – something that helped form a shelter in the storm so that all of Chris’s angst was forgotten, if only for a while.
- More than just music, Uncle Henry worked
hard to pass on everything he had seen and learned in a short amount of time. During
their time together, Uncle Henry’s message wasn’t explicit, but the them was always clear: live large.
- That message wasn’t meant in any kind of negative or selfish way. In fact, to Chris it meant to dare to dream, to commit to living on his own terms, to pursue his vision – one that other didn’t have to see, just him.
- The death of Uncle Henry was a crushing blow for Chris, who “took all that emotion, that weight of the world hanging over me in the shape of a massive question mark, and dragged it deep down below, into a dangerous undercurrent of my own.”
- Chris’s world is rocked at Uncle Henry’s funeral when he spots his mother – and the female prison guard standing next to her. He says, “it came down like a thunderbolt where she had gone.”
- Whenever he got to visit or stay with his Uncle Archie, it was obvious that Chris took away lasting lessons about the value of hard work, goal setting, focus, and self-education.
- His Uncle Willie was a character of the highest order who could turn a humdrum afternoon into an adventure full of international intrigue and espionage.
Chapter 4: bitches brew (side A)
- Early on we learn about Chris’s family – and the ongoing financial problems they experienced (it wasn’t uncommon for him to run errands to get money to pay bills).
- However, witnessing these conditions forced him to learn to “afford by economizing and stretching what cash” he could earn doing odd extra jobs. Money runs also provided him with an introduction to a host of financial principles, like assets versus deficits, loans and interest, and how to get more value for less money.
- Ophelia, Chris’s sister, is the mother of a little girl, DeShanna. Fearing for their safety at home, they eventually move away from Freddie.
- We also see just how desperate Chris is to win over his classmates – when he steals Sis’s glass eyeball and brings it to show-and-tell in his fifth-grade class.
- When the theft is discovered, Sis doesn’t react too kindly to this action.
- Chris begins to come of age – noting that 1968 was the year of his own Great Awakening, a period that marked the dawning of his consciousness as a person of colour.
- After he started to attend a white school on the east side of Milwaukee, he soon realized, “what it felt like to have his colour as his identity, to be looked down on, to be regarded as less than, to feel shame, or to be invisible, a non-entity other than a dark-skinned black boy.”
- After four little girls were bombed to death in Birmingham, Alabama (because they were black), the TV coverage made the light bulb go on: with new outrage and fervour to protest all past, present and future wrongs done to his people
- As the chapter begins, we get a sense that Chris is now in high school (likely his early teens).
- Chris and his buddies (Garvin and Fat Sam) break into the Home and Garden Show, a big annual convention.
- Once inside, the boys soon discover an “ultracool display” that has everything three budding musicians could want for making their own music (amplifiers, stereos, transistor radios, microphones, reel-to-reel tape decks).
After returning home, Chris attempts to be Mr. Hustler when he tries to sell the stolen recording equipment to three men he meets in his apartment building.
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- One of the guys jumps on him, pushing him down, as the other two gather up all the stuff and get out.
- Just when he thinks all hope is lost, one of the men who stole his stuff returns (with money and some of the equipment).
- What first appeared to be a good thing, the man’s arrival quickly turns – and Chris finds himself in a world of trouble.
- As he describes it, “the next slice of time, maybe ten, fifteen minutes, or shorter, do not take place in normal speed: parts of it stretch out in tortuously slow motion and other parts are heart-stoppingly fast.”
- We soon learn that the man pulls a knife to Chris’s throat and eventually rapes him.
- The language here is quite powerful: White hot pain. Cold hard linoleum.
- Following his rape, Chris feels alone: “A desolate quiet descends on the apartment as feelings of total powerlessness and hurt wash over me.”
- Eventually he seeks out revenge, finding the man who raped him and crowning him with a cinder block as he exits a local tavern.
Chapter 5: Bitches Brew (Side B)
- Relying on the wisdom of his mother, who said: “Son, if you want to, one day you could make a million dollars,” Chris eventually decided to leave his turf and eventually marched down to the recruiting offices.
- Prior to enlisting in the Navy, Chris was provided with a crash course in basic economics: during his last year of high school he was met with the shocking discovery that he had amassed a $900 phone bill (calling his girlfriend Sherry).
- To help pay the bill he worked as a dishwasher at Nino’s Steakhouse. One night he reached a boiling point over being stiffed by the waiters. To show his displeasure he peed right onto the dishes coming out of the Hobart (dishwasher). Not once, but as many times as he could drink down enough liquid to make a statement of how he felt about his last hours on the job washing dishes.
- His next job turned out to be handling bedpans and cleaning up pee and poop after old people. It was his sister Ophelia, now working there as a nurse’s aide, who helped him get the job.
- Chris said he: “wanted to do well, mainly because I was locking into a mind-set that whatever I was going to do in life, I wanted to give it my all, to go beyond what was expected of me.”
- After a short stint working at Inland Steel, thanks to his Uncle Archie, he decided to join the Navy. His late Uncle Henry, whose stories about the women overseas and his own personal adventures, is what helped push him down this personal path of exploration.
- Chris suggests that at this point in his life it was time to go in pursuit of happiness – all that his momma ever wanted for him.
Cast of characters
- Christopher Paul Gardner
- Bettye Jean Gardner Triplett: Chris’s mom
- Thomas Turner: Chris Gardner’s father. He was described as a tall, dark, handsome stranger. A married man, he met Bettye Jean during a trip to Louisiana
- Ophelia: Chris Gardner’s sister and closest companion during their early years. We watched as the two played “This Page, That Page” together.
- Sharon: Chris Gardner’s sister
- Archie and Ophelia Gardner: Chris’s grandparents (his mother’s parents)
- Little Mama – Bettye Jean’s step-mother (married her father after he mother, Ophelia, died)
- Archie Gardner – Chris’s uncle (married to Clara, or TT, as they called her)
- Willie Gardner – Chris’s uncle
- Aunt Ella Mae (Willie’s wife) – dark, tall, and big-boned, built like one of the last Amazons
- Henry Gardner – Chris’s uncle
- Freddie Triplett: Chris’s step-father, who was described as tall and dark, but not exactly handsome – at times he bore a strong resemblance to Sonny Liston. He had the demeanour of some ill-begotten cross between a pit bull and Godzilla. He was an illiterate, belligerent, abusive, and complete drunk. He was the father of Sharon and Kim.
- Sugar Ray Robinson: larger than life, superhero who could do and have it all, including a pink Cadillac
- Sam Salter: Ophelia’s daddy, a nicely dressed articulate high school teacher who could read and write and talk trash so good everybody thought he was a lawyer
- Baby: Freddie’s baby sister, who is affectionately known as Baby