“Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot”

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Today as I cook my black eyed peas, rice and greens I am thinking about a dear friend, pictured above, Oz Hopkins Koglin. I met Oz in the early 1980’s through a close high school friend and former roommate who worked with her at The Oregonian, Portland’s daily newspaper. Oz, born in St. Louis, Missouri, had graduated from Reed College in Portland. A radical, a poet, a writer and an all around welcoming human being, Oz knew much more about the racial scene in Oregon than many of her liberal white friends. Oregon has been hostile to blacks since its beginnings when it prohibited free slaves from settling there. Sundown laws(no black person on the street after sundown) were still on the books when we knew each other, whether or not they were still enforced. I lived in an interracial family and felt deeply comfortable and understood around her.

Every New Year’s Day Oz cooked up two enormous batches of black eyed peas, one with ham hocks and one vegetarian. Beer and pop flowed freely. Crowds of people settled onto the sofa, the porch, the floor, the kitchen and ate, laughed and ate some more. All were  welcome, so we met many different people each year. Some we saw only on New Year’s Day at Oz’ house.

When we moved east in 2001, we truly missed those celebrations. I carried them on, learning where to buy decent ham hocks and black eyed peas. They simmer now, filling the house with that specific odor that takes me back to southeast Portland and Oz’ small welcoming home. Oz died in 2016, but not before finally retiring from the paper and devoting herself to her writing.

In her honor I post one of her poems: All Aboard

I hold on to mama’s hem

but my little brother

thinks he’s too big

to hold on

We scurry after daddy,

dodging tall trousers

nylon stockings

suitcases and

greasy shoeboxes

finally finding seats

in the back car

crowded with colored

Fried chicken from home

comforts us

too young to know

there’s a dining car

where we can’t go.

 

25 thoughts on ““Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot”

  1. I remember being on a train (I think it was the Union Pacific) as a boy back in the late 1940s, being served meals by “colored” waiters in the immaculate dining car where none of the patrons were colored. I was “too young to know [it was] a dining car where [they] can’t go.” Now, when I look back and see how unjust that was, I can appreciate Oz’s beautiful poem all the more. .

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  2. Happy New year, Elizabeth! As I read this tribute to your friend, Oz, my home still has lingering aromas of black-eyed peas and collard greens that I cooked, today. Like Oz, I made two batches of peas: one for my guy who doesn’t eat meat, and one that I cooked with a smoked turkey wing. My father always cooked his with ham hocks. I remembered my Dad all day long because he is the one who I got the New Year black-eyed peas tradition from. When he was alive, if we were not together on New Year’s Day, we would tease each other via telephone about whose recipe was the best. My Dad was a great cook and I still miss his peas, his barbecue, and his scratch-made three-layer caramel cakes.

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    1. I am so glad that you connected your heart to this post. I don’t know about the three layer caramel cake. It sounds delicious. My water broke after a large meal of barbecue. Apparently my daughter was finally ready to be born!

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