Every time I hear the expression “I have got this” I am inclined to think that my Brother Charles must have invented it some 60 years ago. Being the oldest of seven siblings put him in that position. Even now he still has the desire to take care of all of us.

When he was born many surrounding families were happy to have him join the circle. His mom and dad were especially happy, but it is unbelievable how proud Grandma Hughes was. He was kinda puny and ended up with a head shaped like a pea, so the family began to call him Pea. Grandma was not pleased so she added “Sweet,” and many others began to call him Sweet Pea.

I asked his brother how he got that name, and he said I do not know but I do know it was not because he was a sweet little boy. He definitely won Grandma’s heart but that was about the extent of it all. He said that he only recently began to call him Sweet Pea, late in life. I also notice that his sister who loves him dearly still calls him Pea not Sweet Pea. I have never spoken to her about the why of that.

Pea is the only male child out of the family whose nickname stuck to him. He took his rightful place and began to be in charge of things. He liked impressing his younger sisters and brothers and they looked up to him, even when he was doing things that were not right in their little innocent eyes.

Doing our growing up days it seemed as if children could accept adult responsibilities and carry them out successfully more so than our children today. Pea was left at home with the younger siblings and would always try to teach them something. That act of leaving the older children in charge of the house and the younger children was common in the Black family circle.

Pea later decided to join the Army so that he could strut his leadership ability. Before leaving for the Army, he tried out his leadership skills at home, in school and in the community.

The family always owned a car so Pea’s daily desire was to put the other siblings in the family car and take them for a ride up and down the unpaved country road. When that devilment got into him, he would say “All right, let’s go.” All except sister Sandra would just pile in, most times with no shoes and sometimes with no shirts. This take charge attitude made the siblings so proud to have a big brother who could drive — without his driver’s license and without Daddy’s permission — and get them back home safely.

The sister Sandra would not go with them so that she could run and tell Dad what Pea and the other brothers had done during the day while he was at work. Pea knew that she was going to tell it but that did not hinder him from using his leadership ability, which would prove vital for his survival in the armed services, when he would travel on three tours and serve in Germany, France, Italy, Lebanon, and Vietnam.

I kid him a lot about living in Germany, where he seemed to have flourished and came back to America speaking German. Some days, I catch him off guard and ask “Sprechen sie deutsch?” He looks at me with a big smile on his face and answers “Ich spreche ein bisschen Deutsch. And don’t ask me any more questions in German because I have forgotten most of what I knew.”

Some days the idea of starting a fire just to see it burn was ever present on his mind. A lot of well water was always available to put the fire out. Several times the fire got out of control, but not often. Dad had purchased a nice piece of land for the children to romp on as they were growing up. The fire would get started out in the field, away from the house. Most times Pea and all the brothers would just stand around and watch the fire burn.

Pea liked seeing his little brothers’ eyes sparkle with glee as they stood around the fire started by their big brother, who would always say to them when things seemed headed for a disaster, “I got this.”

After teaching the younger brothers how to start a fire outside, one day it paid off. Melvin, the next oldest brother, wanted to try fire-setting and he ended up choosing the wrong day. He chose a windy day and the fire got out of control. Pea had told them that they could use their feet to stomp out the fire. Melvin took Pea at his word and almost burned himself and the barn down.

Melvin stomped the blazing fire out with fear in his heart of Dad finding out. Unfortunately, his pants caught on fire and he ended up running in the house to Mom. What happened after that is to be told another day.

Pea went off to high school with that leadership mentality and the teachers saw him as a future leader. He walked around with his body language speaking boldly, saying “I have got this.”

He always had his books under his arm, appearing ready to learn and to be taught. One day the eighth grade teacher had to leave the class for an important meeting with the principal and he put Pea in charge. Most students can remember that being in charge of the class meant that you would be allowed to sit at the desk and take names of students talking or getting out of their seats. Now we must remember Pea is no average child. He was born thinking out of the box.

The minute Mr. Teacher closed the door, Pea got up from the desk and headed for the closet where he kept films. Pea rolled out the projector and began to get the social studies movie out. He had watched the teacher do that so many times and it looked like a piece of cake. It wasn’t until the reel started wobbling and the 8mm tape got caught in the wheel that Pea realized it was not that easy. He could not get the machine cut off fast enough.

Pea looked at the children shivering in their seats with fear for what was going to be done to him when the teacher returned and said “I have got this.”

He went over to the desk and got the old tried and true Scotch tape to splice the film. He got it back together just before the bell rang and told the class that if he was left in charge the next day, they would be shown the film. Then he picked up his books and walked out as if he had had a normal day.

That is Pea for you, or should I say Sweet Pea?

Willie Mae Samuel is a playwright and a director in Rome. She is the founder and director of the African American Connection of the Performing Arts Inc. and a 2020 Heart of the Community Award of Honor recipient.

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