A columnist of heart and mind

A columnist of heart and mind
Interviewing the animals at Children's Fairyland in Oakland. L-R: Bobo the sheep, Gideon the miniature donkey, me, Tumbleweed Tommy the miniature donkey, Juan the alpaca, Coco the pony

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Keep smiling!

I've been writing this column for more than 25 years, and if you were to ask me who was the most memorable person I've written about in all that time, it's easy: the Berkeley Waving Man.
His real name was Joseph Charles, but most people called him "The Waving Man," "Charley Wavesalot" or, simply, "Mr. Charles."
Everyone in Berkeley loved him like a beloved grandfather. And we still do, 13 years after his death.
Mr. Charles was born March 22, 1910, in Lake Charles, LA. When he was young he played in the Negro Leagues as second baseman for the Lake Charles Black Yankees. He even batted once against Satchel Paige when the great pitcher came through town on a barnstorming tour.
He struck out on three straight pitches.
"But at least I got a foul tip," he always said proudly, "which was better than anyone else did that day."
During World War II he joined the great African American migration out of the South to the Richmond shipyards, where he helped build the ships that won the war. After the war he worked as a stevedore at the Oakland Naval Supply Center until he retired on Oct. 5, 1962.
That was when he embarked on his true calling. The next morning he donned yellow construction worker's gloves, stood on the corner in front of his house at Oregon Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Way, and for an hour and a half – 7:30 to 9 a.m. – he waved to the passing cars.
And he kept that up every morning for exactly 30 years, from Oct. 6, 1962 to Oct. 6, 1992 (Mr. Charles was very precise about these things).
"Keep smiling!" he'd call out to them. "Have a GOOD day!"
And they did smile. And they waved back.
"He was a joyful person who loved people, and we loved him right back," says state Senator Loni Hancock. "Seeing him every morning was a great way to start the day."
In fact, many people would drive miles out of their way, just so they could start their day off waving to the Waving Man.
He also served as surrogate grandfather to the neighborhood children, who used his front yard as their playground – much to the relief of their parents, who knew they could count on Mr. Charles to watch over them and keep them safe from harm.
It may seem like a small thing, but how many of us have done as much? The Bible says, "Love your neighbor," and that's exactly what he did: He wished them a good day. And he meant it.
When he died, I figured that was the end of the story. But I was wrong.
Remember I said he was a kindly surrogate grandfather to the neighborhood children? They're all grown up now, but they haven't forgotten him.
Next Friday, March 22, on what would have been his 103rd birthday, several of his fans will stand in front of his old house from 7:30 to 9 a.m. and wave to the morning traffic, just as he did. They've been doing it every year since he died, and they have no plans to quit.
Look for them if you drive by there that morning. Keep smiling. And have a GOOD day.