I met a man on Beale Street.
“Excuse me ma’am, I feel like I just must tell you somthin. You’s the prettiest little thing I’ve seen yet today”
A little uncomfortable. I smiled.
He smiled back. No longer uncomfortable.
“Well thank you sir. You’re not half bad yourself.”
“Hopkins. Mr. Clyde Hopkins. Name’s right there on the ground, man his self’s right here in fronna you.”
Sure enough, engraved in the brass music note on the ground between us, Clyde Hopkins – Godfather of the Blues.
I’d never heard of him.
“Mr. Hopkins, it’s a pleasure to meet you. And thank you, really. For the compliment I mean. It made my day.”
“Young lady, I am 92 years young. I learned a thing or two about the ladies in my time.”
Intrigued. 92 years young. His hunched back the only real sign of his age.
“I’ll bet you have. Well then, Mr. Hopkins, what is the most important thing you’ve learned about women in your time?”
We were in front of an album store. He was leaning on his cane. Adjusted his weight and placed one hand on top of the other. I noticed his shoes, his suit, his hat, everything about him bright. He was cheery, classy. 92 years he’s been alive.
“Most important thing you gots to remember about a lady is she has got to feel pretty. Ain’t no woman thinks she pretty, so you gots to tell her. Everyday. And not only do you gots to tell her, but you gots to believe it too cause if you don’t believe it than she ain’t gonna believe it either. And trust me, if a man don’t make his lady feel pretty, some other man gonna come along and make her feel pretty. And ain’t no man want that. So I tell every lady she’s the prettiest thing I ever did see.”
Feeling a little less special about being told I was pretty, but glad that I stopped to talk to Clyde Hopkins. His smile beamed. He liked having someone to share this with. I was glad it was me.
“Well, Mr. Hopkins, what if they’re not pretty at all? Do you still say it then?”
“Oh yes’m I do. Because every lady be pretty one way or the other. Some ladies, they real pretty on the outside but ugly as a hog on the inside. And some ladies, well they outside ain’t nothin to look at, but on the inside they just as pretty as anythin you ever did see. And then every once in a blue jazz moon, you meet a one that’s just as pretty on the outside as she is on the in. And that’s the one you gots to grab on to. Yes’m thems the ones you want to marry and hold on tight to and never let go of.”
“Did you ever find one like that? One that was pretty inside and out?”
He closed his eyes and breathed deep. I could see on his face that he was conjuring up a memory. The sweetest kind. The ones that you can see and smell and taste and feel like it just happened when it’s really ages and ages ago.
Slowly in his thick Memphis drawl he said, “MmHmm. Yes’m, I sho nuff did. I sho nuff did.”
That was it. He opened his eyes.
Anxious, I asked “Well, did you marry her?”
“No ma’am. How you think I got so good at singing the blues?”
My heart sunk a little. “I’m sorry to hear that.” And I was. I’m a hopeless romantic. I wanted him to end up with the girl.
“Oh me too, young lady, I’m sorry too. But she found someone else, someone that made her feel pretty. She deserved that. And me, I turned my broken heart into a buncha blues. Looka here, Godfather of the Blues. Right in fronna you. And now I tell every woman they’s the prettiest woman I seen yet today. But I mean it for you. Hah, now I know you won’t believe it, but I do.” We walked into the store. “Here, I’mma sign this here CD and give it to you. When you get yourself a case a the blues, you listen to it and remember that ol’ Clyde, he gots the blues right there with you.”
The man behind the counter yelled out “Clyde, you can’t be giving away your albums to every pretty little lady that comes along.”
“You listen to me young man. I’m 92 years young and I ain’t gonna be around forever. And all I gots left is knowing that there’s a buncha pretty ladies sittin’ round, listening to ol’ Clyde Hopkins singing the blues and that he thought they’s the prettiest thing he’d seen yet that day. Don’t rob me a that. Don’t take that from me, cause that’s all ol’ Clyde’s got left.”