Title: BEING PRESENT: THE GIFT OF EXPERIENCING LIFE AS IT HAPPENS
Author: Keith Sykes
Publisher: Chosen Pen Publishing
Being Present details my life growing up in New Orleans, Louisiana, the youngest of 8 children. It gives the reader an intimate look at the relationship between me, my parents, and my siblings. It discusses life and death, joy and pain, and strength and perseverance. The book talks about love and loss and is an optimistic look at overcoming the obstacles of life.
Being Present talks about how I dealt with life after my parent’s death and how joining the military completely changed my life. It gives a glimpse into how the military inspired my love for travel and the many places that I was able to visit as a result. Read about my life after the military and the challenges I faced that shaped the man I am today. Lastly, the book will provide samples of my photography and discuss how it was inspired by my travel.
Release Date: January 5, 2023
Publisher: Chosen Pen Publishing
Kindle: ASIN: B0BRT7CRWH; eBook $1.99
GROWING UP IN NEW ORLEANS
My earliest memories of growing up in the St. Bernard housing projects in the 7th ward of New Orleans, Louisiana, were playing outside for hours. I remember when I would go in the house after doing whatever I was doing, my mom would always say, “Keeto! Go take a bath. You smell just like outside.” I’m sure you’re familiar with exactly what that smell is. It was nothing for me to play outside for most of the day on weekends, many times without eating. My mom would yell out, “Keeto! Come in here and eat. You’re gonna disappear.” Obviously, she was referring to the fact that if I continued not eating, I would shrivel up from malnutrition. Times were so different back then. Interactions were more intentional. There were fewer distractions than now, but we understood the importance of quality time spent and being in the moment.
I was very sociable as a kid but extremely shy. You could always find me around the girls, because, let’s face it, I was cute. Well, I was. With a nickname like Keeto, how could I not be? I got that nickname from my sister Kim, who is ten years older than me. Her nickname as a kid was Kimbo, and she and I were the closest of the eight siblings. I remember always hearing how spoiled I was. I was the youngest of eight, and that came with its perks and pitfalls. I recall stories of how bad my brothers and sisters had it growing up in the house with my father. I never had a relationship with him because he was sick when I was born, and he died from complications of diabetes when I was 11. One thing I never lacked as a kid was love and affection. It mostly came from my mother and sisters, but my brothers expressed themselves primarily through gift-giving and spending quality time with me. However, I remember them expressing themselves verbally a few times, but it didn’t happen quite often.
Although I was shy as a kid, I was expressive, thanks to my sisters. They were the ones who I looked to and tried to learn from because I spent the most time with them. I would get the inside scoop on relationships, boys, heartbreak, what girls like, and other topics women would discuss when men aren’t around. Little did I know, it was my crash course in What Women Want 101. It was here I would gain valuable insight that wouldn’t necessarily keep me from making mistakes because I made quite a few of them, but it would give me a better understanding of the female species and help me navigate through relationships going forward. My sister Kim left home for New York City around the age of 19, and I lived alone with my mother, aside from a few short stints with my older brother and a cousin coming to live with us.
I never thought about the impact my father’s absence had on my life until I was an adult. He was noticeably absent at track meets or school functions, but my mom would always be there to pick up the slack when she wasn’t working and could make it. My mom was 44 years old when I was born, and my dad was 57. Unfortunately, I don’t have many memories of my father. All I can do is piece together stories I get from my brothers and sisters and try to draw a picture in my head of what he may have been like. My memories are mostly of him being sick and in poor health. I know how different things could have been had I had the ideal relationship with my father. It affected me, but luckily, I experienced so much love and support as a child that it compensated for not having him around. It didn’t really affect me until I was older and longed for fatherly advice that could steer me in specific directions and save me in situations of bad decision-making. I promised myself early in life that I would never use my father’s absence as a crutch. I told myself that everything I lacked in not having my father, I would try my hardest to be that to my children if I ever had any.
The neighborhood where I was raised, in 7th Ward New Orleans, was supportive and cohesive. Everyone knew everyone. If a child was being unruly on the other side of the neighborhood, it was understood that any adult within a stone’s throw could chastise him or her, if need be. I really didn’t give my mother any problems as a kid. Her biggest problem with me was getting me back in the house by curfew. I wasn’t into anything juvenile. Well, aside from an occasional “knock and run,” I was a good kid. I loved the outdoors. I would play football on the courts, as we called them. These were the grass fields in between the buildings in the neighborhood. I raced the other kids because I was one of the fastest kids on my block. So, other kids would always come to my house to race me.
Something else we loved to do as kids was ride our bikes. We would ride all over the city, without a care in the world. My house was usually the gathering place for me and my friends. I had nephews and nieces who were close to me in age and older, so we also spent a lot of time together. It was so much fun. On many occasions, I came home with grass stains on the knees of my pants and cuts and bruises on my arms and legs. It was just part of life; I wouldn’t have changed it for the world. I remember we had just had a storm come through that drenched the neighborhood fields. A group of us walked around convincing as many of the local kids as possible to come outside on the muddy, rain-soaked courts to play tackle football. They were some of the best times I remember as a kid.
I was extremely shy. It was a significant disadvantage at times, but for the most part, it ended up being a talking point. I was never one to really approach others and strike up a conversation. Many times, others would approach me out of curiosity. “Who’s the kid with the handwriting like a girl?” I used to draw a lot. Most of my siblings were creatives, as was my mother. I would watch my mother doodle at the kitchen table or just write down her thoughts, and eventually, it was a habit I picked up. My family was very close. We spent most holidays, special occasions, and many Sundays at my mom’s place. It reminds me of the movie Soul Food when I think about everyone, talking, laughing, playing cards, and eating. These times strengthened my sense of family and taught me the significance of being present. Everyone was so engaged. I looked forward to when everyone would come over to the house.