Soul shadows in old Suffolk

Published 10:06 pm Wednesday, March 6, 2013

By Dennis Edwards

It took Uncle Walter a while to get to you. He was older and the long, quick strides he had taken in earlier days had become more like a fast shuffle. On the sidewalks, step by step, he’d weave a slow, steady course near and through as we roller-skated, bicycled and dribbled basketballs around him.

From a distance I’d see him zero in on one of us. Next thing you knew, he was standing right there. Eye to eye. With a funny but intense stare, he’d say, “Time changes things,” and then inch away.

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As I grew up I kept wanting him to say more. He never did. Uncle Walter just got older and his sayings more true with every passing day.

Then, one day he was gone, as the church folk would say, home to be with the Lord. But his short sermon lingers in my mind to this day. Sometimes it overwhelms. It’s actually a self-fulfilling prophecy along the 200 block of Wellons Street.

Gone are the once great families we grew up around. Leroy Burke Sr. and Jr., the Brick houses, the Estes, Dr. and Ida Sullivan, Dr. Colden, T.E. Cooke, my parents Leroy T. and Lorraine Edwards and Mr. Bell. Their yards were manicured and homes furnished with the finest you’d see anywhere.

Like uncle Walter, all of those folks are memories now — replaced, it seems, by the living lost. Drug dealers hanging out on Wilson and Wellons. Some of them actually think nobody can see them selling from where one of the finest women I ever knew used to carefully tend her back yard flower garden.

They’re a lost generation. Lost in their own time and lost while living in the homes of some of Suffolk’s most important families. At times they appear to be dancing in their own kind of darkness, in stark contrast to the souls whose shadows still linger in the neighborhood.

People like Essie Mae Cooke carved their standards for behavior and achievement into our souls. They loved us, cried with us and at times laughed at us. I remember a morning when Mrs. Cooke called out to my mother in panic. “Lorraine, Lorraine it’s Dennis, Lorraine!”

Seems that morning, around the age of 5, I stood up in the bathtub when Mama went to get a towel. For some reason I jumped out, ran through the living room, out the front door and almost a block away. Mrs. Cooke couldn’t chase me, but she stood on the porch, pointing for my mother and shouting, “He’s naked, Lorraine! He’s naked!”

My mother wanted to laugh so badly. But she held her laughter out of respect for Mrs. Cooke’s genuine concern. On the way back, Mama simply told Mrs. Cooke, “I guess that bath felt good to him!”

These souls are always reminding me who I am, where I came from and (no matter what happens in life) whom they still expect me to be.

Uncle Walter was Perry Walter Boykin, my grandmother’s middle brother, who settles my soul even now by also reminding me that, like time, “prayer changes things.”

Sometimes his familiar shadow spots me in mind as he used to in life. He weaves his way around the kids who now ride mopeds on sidewalks and dirt bikes in the street, around lost souls sitting on front porches or standing on street corners. Suddenly I look up and there he is again, Uncle Walter, saying, “Time changes things.”

And it’s true: Time does just that. But the Soul shadows know time will change things again. So we wait for time (influenced by prayer) to do what it does best one more time.

After all, Uncle Walter said it would, and he’s been right so far.

Dennis Edwards is an Emmy Award-winning television news reporter and anchor, He is a 1974 graduate of Suffolk High School. Email him at