Sitting at the Feet of the Most Famous Man in the World… A Tribute to my Uncle

Currents and Futures


Greetings;

My uncle, William Edsel Moore, “Uncle Edsel”, passed away this week in New Jersey.  He was my favorite of my mother’s six siblings (five brothers) and he was the last of the seven to pass on.

And no… he was not “The Most Famous Man in the World”.  Not my uncle, but the guy in his barber chair: Muhammad Ali.

When I was a young teenager, Uncle Edsel would call the house and whisper, “You should come get your hair cut now!”  That was the signal for me and my brother to run to his barber shop, arriving right before a certain black car would pull up and The Most Famous Man in the World came into the barber shop for his haircut.  (They would lock the door right after him… every guy in Camden wanted to get his hair cut right then!  There would be hundreds of people lining the streets, hoping to catch a glimpse of “The Champ”.)

For over an hour, Ali would entertain those of us inside, using the barber chair as his personal throne.  Waving his arms around, shadow-punching, doing Howard Cosell imitations… while poor Uncle Edsel was behind him, trying to tiptoe up and get in a cut or two on Ali’s constantly bobbing head.  It was less a haircut than a sneak attack on his hair.

(The “sitting at the feet” reference in the title to this article is simple: all the adults grabbed the available seats in the barber shop – my brother Allan and I were forced to sit on the floor…)

“Look at his hair!”

Later, I would visit Uncle Edsel and we would watch reruns of Ali’s fights.  I remember all of us crowded around the television when Ali knocked out Sonny Liston – with my uncle screaming, “LOOK AT HIS HAIR!  LOOK AT HIS HAIR!”

[NOTE:  We’ve all heard the word “iconic” used before.  This photo is the iconic “What’s My Name?” photo… one of the most famous fight photos in history.  But, more than just a photo, Muhammad Ali was (and still is) an ICON.  He represented/ embodied the spirit, the power and even the defiance of a new generation of black men (men who were just starting to refer to themselves as “black”.) My generation — just coming into its power.]

 

“I’m So Pretty!”

After awhile, it became too difficult for Edsel to cut Ali’s hair in the barber shop – hundreds would lie in wait on the chance that Ali would show up.  So, Edsel  would fly to his training camp to do the famous doo.  (It was probably a lot quicker, since Ali didn’t have to perform for an audience…)

Muhammad Ali and Uncle Edsel, at the training camp. (I’ll let you figure out which one is which…)

Two young men, clowning around.  (Or, maybe he didn’t like his haircut!  Edsel didn’t look too worried…)

I remember watching Ali taunting his opponents with the phrase, “I’m so pretty!”  Well, he was… and Uncle Edsel helped him get that way!

Ali was the most famous of my uncle’s heads, but not the only celebrity.  Word spread: if you wanted to look good for the cameras, go see “Bill Moore” (close family were the only ones who called him “Edsel” – named after Henry Ford’s son, not his car…).  Several basketball stars found their way to Uncle’s chair.

“It wasn’t supposed to be this way.”

Uncle Edsel had a successful barbering career, owned his own home, had a laundramat, saved his money… yet in his old age could not handle the rising costs of living in retirement.  (I would give him money when I had it to give – I told him it was payment for all those years of “free” haircuts.)

The last time I saw him, about a year ago in his small retirement apartment in Collingswood, NJ, he was bitter.  “It wasn’t supposed to be this way,” he said.  “I served my country in World War II. I worked hard, built myself up.  I didn’t waste any money.  Now, when Peggy and I go to the store, we can’t afford even basic food.  Both of us saved our money for retirement, but we still have to work odd jobs just to make ends meet. I thought we were going to be able to take it easy.  Nephew, WHAT HAPPENED TO AMERICA?”

What happened, indeed…

William Edsel Moore lived a full, rich life.  I don’t mourn him… I honor his accomplishments, his quick smile and mischievous humor… and for his moment in history.  I wish his spirit well.

Peace,

Sharif

PS:  While you are free to comment below, I don’t expect ANYONE to point out that, at 84 years old, he had more hair than I do!

 

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20 Responses to Sitting at the Feet of the Most Famous Man in the World… A Tribute to my Uncle

  1. Linda says:

    Uncle Edsel – already enjoying meeting him just hearing his name. You wrote that remembrance well, Sharif. I could SEE and FEEL your uncle’s pride and Ali’s gift for entertainment. I could read or listen to tales like yours for hours. Such was my delight in using my imagination to put myself right into your life at those adorable and humorous moments. This was the story of life with its ups and downs.

  2. Shirlene says:

    Sharif-
    I am so sorry for your loss. You tribute to your Uncle was lovely…..sad that his life ended with the question “What happened to America?” My guess is he knows his Nephew is seeking to find answers.

    Much love.

  3. Krishna Sondhi says:

    What a gem of a story. Thanks or sharing it.
    Peace.
    Krishna

  4. John Brown says:

    A wonderful gift you were given by your uncle. Thanks for passing it on! I can see you young guys sitting on the floor, or at least trying to. I imagine sitting still was a little difficult in those situations. Should be a scene in a movie.

  5. Khadijah Abdullah-Fardan says:

    Sharif… yes, I remember your uncle and he did live a life full of accomplishment. He has touched the lives of three generations of men in a city where male mentoring is so needed (actually that’s everywhere). I will join you and the family in celebrating his life!

  6. Arisana says:

    What an inspiring story about your uncle! Thank you for honoring his memory and sharing with us. And, thank you for being such a devoted nephew in his later years. It is sad that most of our tax dollars go to the military machine and those who have served their country in more important ways are left struggling just to provide their basic needs. As we grow in community, let’s remember to include those who may not seem to have the ability to contribute in tangible ways, but have a richness of life experience and wisdom to add in intangible ways.

    Peace and love,
    Arisana

    • Ricardo says:

      Sorry for delay in response You relalced the meaning of crisis correctly. I think that simplicity starts in silence which is why I stress the need for a regular meditative practice. Once you have silenced your senses (or at least quieted them down!), you can then see what is important to have in your life, and what is not. You can then simplify . In this society, with our over-stimulated senses (called entertainment ), we can’t really differentiate that which gets in our way from that which is actually feeding us. Quick example: I’ve seen people decide to get into meditation by spending money on special pillows, incense, bells, mats getting the right meditation tapes, buying meditation books doing everything except meditating! This is exchanging clutter for DIFFERENT clutter So, I would say that its more like getting rid of the noisy and letting in the silence Peace,Sharif

  7. Sharif, sorry for the planet’s loss of a wonderful human. Sorry that he, like so many seniors are worried about basics instead of being honored, celebrated and having opportunities to share their so much needed wisdom.

    ps…what a wonderful childhood experience…I could see how those bragging rights could make you pretty popular at school!

    pps…your uncle’s characteristics live in you. You embody compassion, intellect, kindness, charm, wit, oh ok…I could go on…but you get the picture. I love you my dear friend.

  8. Susanna Moncayo von Hase says:

    dear Sharif,

    I never writte because of my English, so poor…
    I liked so much to read and know a bit of the life of your oncle.
    And yours.
    thank you for sharing it with us .

    un beso, de Susanna

  9. Tim Hart says:

    Well said, brother Sharif, well said. I would like to note that Mr. Ali was as much a hero and inspiration to a lot of us young white men (we were feeling the force of black rage by being called “Honkey” which, while hurtful, accelerated our understanding of the problem in a visceral way) of a similar age as was Dr. King, for the same reason: His courage in his convictions. He renounced his title, jeopardized his career, and risked prison–for what? “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong.” (How eloquent was that? Pretty good boxer, too.)

  10. ptery lieght says:

    He has a great smile, I see the mischief! I welcome him to the circle as I imagine he has been hovering, if he hasn’t zoomed out of this plane altogether already. What a blessing story for all of us. Thank you.

  11. dmax says:

    Sharif, we have more in common than I thought–my father was a barber, too, and worked on some “famous heads” as well here in Portland. It’s great to hear the love and fondness as you retell your memories of Uncle Edsel. It’s memories like this that make the hardships of an unjust culture in the US (and world) easier to bear.

  12. Greg says:

    Your uncle, with his dapper looks and pencil-line moustache, reminds me of my father who passed away three years ago. And yes, he left with more hair than I have!

  13. Thanks for this terrific article, Sharif.

    Interesting your uncle was named after Edsel Ford. While Henry Ford was an outspoken anti-Semite, apparently he did hire black folks. Too bad about the car, which gave Edsel a bad name. As someone pointed out, it looked like an Oldsmobile sucking a lemon.

    And Muhammad Ali was and is a one-of-a-kind. Really sad about those boxing injuries and the Parkinson’s, etc. He knew exactly how to play the media (as John Lennon did) before the media knew how to play even the best players. Here’s to your Uncle Edsel … part of the “greatest generation” ever to be treated so poorly.

    Steve

    • Sharif says:

      Yes, Ford hired black workers… but I’ll bet that few were invited to dinner.

      Edsel (the car) was really ahead of its time and was considered the “state of the art” of car-making at that time. However, designed by a committee (not a person), no one got the message of its puckered look until too late.

      You said:

      Here’s to your Uncle Edsel … part of the “greatest generation” ever to be treated so poorly.

      Yes, indeed… We live in a society with so much money, our elderly could live like kings. And we give that money to our military, so our defense contractors can live like kings. A policy no one created, yet dominates our lives.

      Peace,

      Sharif

  14. Barbara says:

    Sharif,

    Thank you for sharing another rich story of family, culture and connectedness…I felt the depth of your uncle’s question, “What has happened..?”I feel the question reverberating, “What is it that our primary priority is not people?”and “Why is our question to ourselves not “What do children, elders, families, teens, need to be fully alive and well? Like being blind, not being able to see what is right in front of us…I sit with these questions.

  15. I loved this article, Sharif-
    a real reminder how we’re all connected – laughed when I imagined your uncle
    calling out ‘Look at his hair’ in the middle of Ali’s fight. Also, a good reminder about how even the simple things – like a haircut – can reflect the richness and beauty of all of life within them.

  16. Tahdi says:

    Sharif,
    I love this tribute where I feel like I’m expanded by a brand new friend – how thoughtful and loving to quick call his nephews for something that special!! And I echo him with “What’s happened to America?” How possibly could we be so petty, small-minded, blind, and pathetic, to sell out America by believing the T Party fear-inducing racism and lies? Help me understand – please?

  17. Mariana de la Fuente says:

    I love the story! What a great opportunity your uncle had: to cut Ali’s hair and to know him personally. So sad that after all his contirbutions to this country, he could not live comfortably at the end of his life. Glad he left you so many good memories. At the end, that is all we have.
    Best regards,

    Mariana

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