Waving Back To You Mr. Charles...

I lived and worked in the east bay area of San Francisco in the late 1970's and 80's. My job took me all over the bay area, usually leading me from Berkeley, across the San Francisco Bay Bridge, through all parts of S.F. then across the Golden Gate bridge to Marin County, and finally across the San Rafael Bridge and back to the east bay. One of the high points of my route was driving through Berkeley, through a residential area on Martin Luther King Jr. Way, where every day I'd pass a particular house where a smartly dressed elderly black man wearing yellow gloves would be outside, standing in his yard, smiling and waving to me as well as every other passerby who he'd never even met but he treated like family with a grin and a cheerful wave of his yellow gloved hands, looking like a crossing guard for adults. Life in that region could be extremely hectic and chaotic, but especially when I was the most stressed out, I knew that when I drove past Mr. Charles' house he'd be there as always, smiling and waving to me and everyone else who drove by. He was always there, always smiling, always waving. He was like the costumed Mickey mouse character that welcomes you to Disneyland, sweating inside the hot costume yet always cheerful, always smiling, and waving. Mr Charles' neighborhood was a rough one, filled with gang activity, drugs, and prostitution, but when I'd drive by and see him smile and wave to me, to me, a total stranger to him, all of the ugliness disappeared like when the wonderful of world of Disney would come on when I was a kid in the 60's and all of the ugliness of the real world would disappear for an hour or so. I'd all but forgotten Joseph Charles until an online friend accidentally reminded me of him. It's sad how some of one's most precious life experiences are so easily forgotten. As his neighbor Ryan Lee said upon Mr. Charles' passing "He would always give me strength to go on with my day" just as he daily renewed my faith in humanity.' Funny how a simple smile and a wave can so profoundly affect one and more sadly how one can easily forget something so precious. I was busy working back then and never actually stopped to shake the gloved hand of Mr. Charles who'd brightened so many of my days. I'll forever regret that I didn't ever stop and thank him and shake his gloved hand. My bad. Thank you Mr. Charles for being you and for reinforcing my faith in humanity.

The following is from an article about Mr. Joseph Charles from www.sfgate.com :

At a spirited "going home" funeral service full of song and celebration at McGee Avenue Baptist Church, more than 200 people, including Mayor Shirley Dean and other local dignitaries, gave tearful thanks to Charles for his inspiring example of simple good will.

Charles, who would have turned 92 yesterday, at first puzzled his neighbors and then gradually warmed the hearts of his community and the nation by standing on the street corner in front of his house and waving daily to the morning commute traffic for 30 years. Wearing bright yellow gloves and a big smile, he'd call out, "Keep smiling!" and "Have a GOOD day!"

Dean called it a "simple act" that cost no money and required no environmental impact reports or endless meetings, yet it "brought joy and improved the quality of life for everyone everyday."

"Our best way to honor him," Dean added, "is to carry out his legacy -- do one simple act of kindness each day. And when you do, whisper the name Joseph Charles in your heart and he will wave."

Charles died March 14 of heart failure at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Oakland, and was buried yesterday at Evergreen Cemetery in Oakland.

During his life, he was featured on national television and in People magazine. The city of Berkeley named tennis courts after him and dedicated two days to him, one in 1989 and one in 2001. The New York Times on Wednesday gave his obituary twice as much space as that of Alonzo Decker Jr., the man who turned Black & Decker tools into a household name.

"Like the city in which he lived, Joseph Charles was one of a kind," said the Rev. D. Mark Wilson, pastor of the church. "When they made him, they must have thrown away the mold, because he did what many of us have been afraid of and are still afraid to do."

Charles "wished his neighbors well," said newspaper columnist Martin Snapp. "It's a very small thing, granted, but you and I haven't done as much, have we?"

Though known to the world for waving from the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Way and Oregon Street, his family and friends revealed other ways in which he enriched their lives, such as the large gumbo dinners that "Daddy Joe" would generously share.

They also spoke of his deep love for his late wife, Flora Shade. He also lost his two sons, but is survived by six grandchildren, eight great- grandchildren and one great-great-granddaughter.

Neighbor Ryan Lee used to pass him every morning and often stopped to talk. "He would always give me strength to go on with my day," Lee said.

When Lee was a boy and needed a project for Black History Month, he turned to Charles, interviewing him over a two-week period. "In those two weeks," Lee said, "I learned more about my black family, culture and heritage than any book in my school taught me."

Alameda County Superior Court Judge Horace Wheatley said Charles' support in his election campaign was worth hundreds of votes. "He held a sign in one hand and waved with the other," Wheatley recalled.

Oakland singer and composer David Glover was moved to write a song about Charles, which he sang yesterday.

A native of Lake Charles, La., Charles was a first baseman for the Lake Charles Black Yankees before he moved to the Bay Area in 1942. He retired as a longshoreman in 1971 after a long career with the Oakland Naval Supply Center.

After yesterday's church service, participants lined up outside the door and waved to his casket as it was carried out. Some, like the Rev. Whitney Lester of Independence Community Church in Oakland, thought Charles might be waving again soon.

"I imagine if they gave Brother Charles the space," Lester had told the congregation, "he'd be out in front of the gates, waving 'Come on! Come on!' "
E-mail Charles Burress at cburress@sfchronicle.com.
neonshades neonshades
51-55, M
1 Response Aug 10, 2010

Thank you Vignette