When Tommy was four, John Hearns took Lois and their children to Detroit, but he left there after about three years. Lois and the children stayed on in a small apartment on Griggs Street. "It was hard, but for the best, when we separated," Lois says. "I was working at a bank, and I was doing hair at night at home. I would get so tired sometimes. Tommy would come and sit on the couch with me and he'd say, 'Mama, you tired? You want me to rub your head?' And you know, he would. And he wouldn't leave my side until I said I felt better. Later, after Tommy became champion, my male friends would humor him and say, 'I'd like to get to know your mother better.' Tommy would say, 'No!' I lost a couple of male friends that way. My girlfriends would laugh and say, 'We know who you're gonna marry. You're gonna marry Tommy. He won't let you marry anybody else.' "
At his home in Jackson, Henry Tallie's rheumy eyes and weakening ears take note of everything.
"Daddy," says Reed, "the man wants to know if you were a tough man."
"Tended to be," says Tallie. "Tended to clean up anything got in the way."
"Daddy, the man wants to know if you were ever afraid of anything."
This is a significant admission from a 106-year-old son of former slaves who has lived nearly all of his life in the rural South. Hearns used to say, "Fear is something I see in other men," but he was talking only about boxing.
"Daddy, do you think Tommy should retire from boxing?"
"Waal...he's gettin' older. Boxin's hard. But mens used to get killed just for readin', so...."
"Daddy, should Tommy retire?"