“My name is Charles Bentley.
I’m Native American, sick
My grandmother was Cherokee.
I worked for American Motors
at the corner of Capitol and Richards,
where Wal-Mart is now
I was a spray painter,
I was “The Door Jam Man.”
The Rambler was the first car I worked on at the plant.
I’m 77 years old,
and I like the young women, medicine
I came from Georgia.
I was ten years old when I met my Grandfather for the first time.
My Grandfather left my dad when he was an infant…”
Charles pauses, asking aloud how best to phrase the conversation he had with his father after he met his grandfather sixty-seven years ago.
“I talked to my father and I asked him, medical
‘How do he love you?’
And my father said to me, ‘No.’
I said to him, ‘Why?’
‘I couldn’t answer that.’
I met my grandfather in ’47,
moved to Chicago in ’49,
moved to Milwaukee in 1950.
My dad got a job as City of Milwaukee Sanitary Worker.
Cause he was short he was a Garbage Man.
That’s when they had the cans
and the pad on the shoulder.
I have a plaque at home
of the service my that father did for the city.
It’s by my door as you go up.
He retired in 1968,
he did some years.
I take after my father.
I’m the spitting image of my father,
the older I get, the more I look like my father.
I went in 2014 to see my 93-year-old Uncle in Georgia.
That’s the only one I got left.
He washes his own clothes
though he walks with a cane.
I don’t know that much about Native American customs.”
Charles hands my recorder back to me, to make room on the table for his steak. He presses his hands together, bends his head and mutters a prayer over his food. Before he tries it though, he asks the waitress for an additional bottle of steak sauce.
if I saw a peanut on the ground,
I would bless it and then eat it.
Let me tell you something about the white man:
on my birth certificate I was called a ‘Negro,’
not a Native American.
I’m still considered Indian N*****,
that’s why I don’t get the money,
but I have a picture of my grandmother to prove it.
So maybe I could talk to you,
and you could write my memoirs for me.
Seeing my grandfather for the first time
all I wanted was love from him,
it’d be easy to show that,
but as my Dad explained to me,
‘If he don’t love me, how could he love you?’
To me I couldn’t understand it,
cause of my youth, y’know,
but it sunk in later on.
I’d only seen my grandfather maybe two or three times in my life.
All I wanted to do was go fishing or hunting,
he loved to fish and hunt,
that’s all I wanted,
I wanted him to show me love,
but as I said,
my dad said ‘If he don’t love me, how could he love you?’
I’m a self-made man.
I’m a Step-Pop,
and they still call me,
I’m the only pop they know,
they had a living father too,
but he was a bigamist, y’know,
cause my wife that I married,
she thought she was married to him,
but she wasn’t because he had another wife,
so he was a bigamist.
I went through hell and high water in my life,
like I said you can write my memoir,
I wouldn’t mind writing a book,
I think it’d be a number one seller.”
When I finished interviewing him, I thanked him for taking the time to talk with a stranger. He corrected me,
“To you I’m a stranger,
but to me you’re not,
you’re a beautiful young sister.”