Big Andre died night before last of a heart attack. I found out later he was only 56 years old.
I have known Big Andre about as long as I've had anything to do with Harlem. He has been on my corner (now my mother's corner) of 'Two-Five for as long as I can remember, almost 30 years. (Damn! Really? Thirty years??? Shit I'm old.) I can't ever remember him NOT being there.
Yet and still; I knew absolutely nothing about him or what he was. He did sell herb, this is true. He also ran numbers I think. The fact that he was ALWAYS there also meant he never did any prolonged jail time, and in Harlem that begged the question... why not? Was he also an informant? "Protected?" Or smarter than he let on? I had no idea where he lived, except he *didn't* live on 'Two-Five, since I would see him in the Lexington Avenue subway in the morning on his way to "work", or in the evening sometimes on the way home.
He had kids but I've no idea how many or who they were. He had grandkids cuz he mentioned them once in passing, but again I've no idea who or how many or whether they were boys or girls.
But he looked out for us all those times we sat out on the stoop, or stumbled in drunk, or got into altercations. He "sparred" with my Sun and taught him useful street moves. He helped my mom keep the riffraff out of the building when the new management took over, fired "Uncly" and let our formerly clean and looked-after building rot and turn to shit.
He was *always* a gentleman, always courteous, never angry. He always gave the Vulcan greeting when we passed.
He was over 6 ft, very dark skin, sad eyes. Very fit when we were kids, and we watched his temples grey and his frame get a little heftier than it used to be. Sis said she saw him last week, and he really didn't look well--like he had suddenly gained a lot of weight and she thought to herself "Damn, he's finally getting old".
He will be truly missed, and the corner will never be the same...