Instant Connections


CherriMy Time With Sol

by Cherri Ellis

 

I rang the bell again, adding a tiny knock since I couldn’t hear it ring. When I got no response, I jotted off a note and walked it down to the mailbox. An hour later, my phone rang at my office, and I heard a disgruntled, “I understood you were coming over at one.” “I did!” I interjected. “I rang several times!” When he didn’t seem to believe me, I described his front door and told him about the note in his mailbox. I had him. He came back with, “Well, what did you go to the front door for? Nobody uses a front door. That’s what the sheriff uses.”

And there commenced my unlikely friendship with Solomon Kimerling.

Have you ever met someone who had a level of familiarity that belies the length of time you have known him or her? That is what it was like to meet Sol. I contacted him because I was producing a video about the lasting effects of the KKK raid of Camp Fletcher,  and he had written about the subject in the “No More Bull” series that he co-authored for Weld. The first time I visited him, he served me a cup of seriously strong coffee with steamed milk and a plate of Jewish cookies and showed me his research. It was a giant binder stuffed with Xeroxed copies of Birmingham newspapers dating back to the birth of the city, and there were Post-It notes sticking out everywhere with each one’s significance. I was entranced.

On the advice of his attorney (who was probably him), he wouldn’t allow me to take his research from his home, but I was welcome to come and look at it anytime I liked.  He said he would clear me a space to work.  The days of my visits, I would sit with him and take notes about Birmingham’s troubled past, but our talk was rich with stories about life. The man is as in love with his late wife today as he was the day he first laid eyes on her. Pictures of her and their kids are everywhere, including a stunning 40-year-old snapshot of them on their honeymoon stuck on the fridge with a magnet. They met in college, and he took a history of Greek philosophy class with her. One day, the professor called him up and said, “Look, we both know why you’re in here. It’s because you want to sit next to Rita Capouya. I’m gonna give you a B. She’s smart enough for both of you.”

My favorite story was connected to a photo of his family at one of the kids’ weddings. In the foreground are the two youngest granddaughters all decked out in matching floral print dresses and ruffled socks. It seems the littlest girl’s initial refusal to wear the socks led to a showdown at the breakfast table. It escalated, and everyone sat and waited for the stalemate between her and her mom to be over. Finally, the little girl got up and addressed the table. “Alright,” she said, as tears streamed down her little face. “I’ll wear the f***ing socks.” Rita’s response was, “She didn’t learn that language here, but her diction was perfect.”

In between looking at headlines of stories about the Ku Klux Klan’s unchecked activities in the 1940s, I saw pictures of him and his cousins studying at his grandfather’s table after temple. I saw shots of him and his brothers in uniform as they respectively served in every branch of the military. As each of them left to serve, they were given a ring that Sol still wears. It is flat gold with Hebrew characters; translated, they mean, “This too shall pass.” He says it reminds him that whether you’re at the top or at the bottom, don’t think you’re staying there.

As I learned about what life was like for kids in 1926 in the Magic City, I learned about his three daughters and son who are grown now with kids of their own. One works for the Gates Foundation, one is an attorney for the remote Huaorani tribe in the Amazon, and one he refers to as the “Food Police.”  Apparently, his eldest daughter checks all the expiration dates on his food when she visits. She not only throws out anything expired—she also throws out food that is fine but going to expire before she is set to visit again.

We had weird connections. Forget Kevin Bacon; this was “the Six Degrees of Solomon Kimerling.” On his kitchen wall hangs the same American Cancer Society Lifetime Inspiration Award that hangs on mine. When I mentioned a piece I had done on the N.E. Miles Jewish Day School, he told me he was one of the school’s founders. On another wall, I saw a poster for the AROVA Contemporary Ballet. I know their work because I take aereal pilates from their founder, Alison Paige, owner of Aero Joe.  In a rush, I remembered her having told me about a beautiful piece of choreography that had been commissioned to honor a woman she had dearly loved who had died. Paige had worked with her for years until she was no longer able to get out of the house. The woman was Rita. The piece was commissioned by Sol. I was able to share with him that Paige was pregnant with her first baby, and we stood quietly for a second, feeling the simultaneous sadness and joy.

When I finally interviewed him on camera, we sat in the living room that Rita had decorated in cool, elegant blues.

These are the things I learned from Sol:

Birmingham was a brand-new city in 1871, so we are really all immigrants.

Love hard. Laugh hard. Work hard.

Coffee cannot be too strong.

Grieve as long as you need to.

Friends come in the kitchen door.

 

This is what Sol learned from me:

If your feet don’t show in the shot, there is no reason to put your shoes on.

3 Responses to “Instant Connections”

  1. Robin Cummings says:

    What a beautiful feeling this article brings. It’s like I was there and met with Sol and Rita too!

  2. Terri fox says:

    This reminds me of an in home client I had for 4 years. This brings back all the feelings I had for Dan. Superb being. Thanks for sharing this.

  3. Endigo Parker says:

    So what you’re saying is that you have no shoes on in that picture…? Hahaha!

    Love you girl; great article, just like always <3

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