That’s what a grown man respectfully would call his mom’s friend were they to meet as adults.
Way back when he was age 5, she was Mrs. Washington.
Not that I remember calling her that, either. I was too shy to say much of anything beyond "hello" to any of my parents’ friends and acquaintances.
That doesn’t mean, however, that Miss Dottie — and her sons — didn’t leave an indelible mark.
My mother met Miss Dottie when she began volunteering with Head Start in Lorain. Occasionally, I would go with my mother to the site where she read to kids and listened to them read to help prepare them for kindergarten.
One day, Miss Dottie invited us to her house for a cookout. While the food was being prepared, her sons — there were five, the youngest at least 10 years older than me — were playing basketball in the driveway. My presence made it possible for a random shootaround to become a game of three-on-three.
At least that’s what they said in making me feel included.
Picture a mix of five teens and men, each with skills like NBA players — at least in the eyes of a scrawny kid. Whether it left a lasting impression on any of them, who knows? For me, the memory of us huddling up, drawing a play for me, me actually making the shot (thanks, dad, for the hoop attached to our garage) and their enthusiastic reaction has been polished and kept in my mind’s eye for more than 50 years.
Some 15 years later, I would find myself in another huddle that also shaped my life and worldview to this day. I had been hired at a country club on the west side of Cuyahoga County for summer work, mostly to clean showers and shine shoes. No glamour, but the cash tips were good and the education priceless.
Under the supervision of a man named John, who each day drove himself and two or three other guys to the club from Warrensville on the far east side of the county, I occupied the lowest position on the team. That meant they picked our menu, the TV shows on the workroom’s 10-inch TV and music on the radio. Democracy ruled, and I was the minority.
Members of the club didn’t look like John or his friends. Most didn’t talk to them, either, outside of some banal banter to which John, his friends and I — as a teammate wearing the same gray uniform — were to reply, simply, "Yes" or "No."
I once watched a drunken club member berate John when his precious golf shoes went "missing." John listened to the waves of verbal abuse. He neither spoke nor looked anywhere except into the man’s eyes.
After the profane tirade, John called us together. In our makeshift huddle, he said that either all of us would keep our jobs or we all would lose them.
Our status didn’t matter. Our color didn’t matter. Only finding the shoes mattered.
Which we did, a few minutes later, outside the clubhouse, where the man had taken them off and left them.
He never apologized, proving once again that money can’t buy class.
So, here we are in 2020. Our collective need for huddles, like the ones I remember so vividly decades later, hasn’t diminished.
In 2017, the Pro Football Hall of Fame recognized the need for bringing together people with varied viewpoints and life experiences and launched #HuddleUpAmerica. More than a metaphor, the huddle represents a real place where people of all backgrounds gather to solve problems and work toward a common goal.
Its place isn’t limited to a football field or athletic arena. Schools, businesses, churches, community groups, rallies in the town square — anyplace people meet — can benefit from using the huddle as a sanctuary from whatever outside noise is hindering real communication and progress.
Next week, the Hall of Fame will host an initiative called "Build the Bridge." The brainchild of Kahari Hicks, an assistant coach of the Cleveland Heights High School football team, the initiative will bring together coaches, players, parents, administrators and community members from predominantly black teams and predominantly white teams. The goal: to empower, develop and unify programs across Northeast Ohio regardless of race, class or creed.
The teams can acknowledge not only their differences, but also identify how much more they share in common.
On Tuesday, the Build the Bridge program on the Hall of Fame campus will include on-field activities, a Hall tour and moderated discussion groups for nearly 30 coaches and 60 players, all under current health guidelines. Canton McKinley and Alliance are among the teams confirmed to participate.
Subsequent Build the Bridge events in the Cleveland area could include joint team practices, 7-on-7s, shared team meals and, of course, more discussions about race and equality.
This generation will effect change in how we talk about race and come together. Huddle by huddle.
John and Miss Dottie would approve.
Rich Desrosiers is vice president of communications and public relations for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He is a former executive editor of The Canton Repository.