My cousin Barbara was six years old when this photograph was taken. She is holding a little parasol and standing at the edge of their front yard.
In age, Barbara was right between my sister Pearl and me. Every year my father took the three of us to the Michigan State Fair. We went to the Fair right before the end of summer vacation in early September.
I remember buying little parasols like the one Barbara is holding. They were pin. blue, or yellow with flowers on them. We also liked to buy pop beads that snapped together into bracelets and necklaces. I don’t remember using them after the fair. They were part of the experience, like the cotton candy.
Living in Detroit, we didn’t see livestock everyday, but we saw it at the fair. I remember King Romancer the 23rd (or something along those lines), the bull who had sired many, many prize winning cows. And the time we rounded a corner to see a huge boar heading down the aisle towards us. Pearl and Barbara jumped behind me. There was someone with the boar and my father was right behind us, so all was well. We watched a 4-H cattle show where a girl kicked her losing heifer. As we walked through the various barns full of animals, I was envious of the young people who had cots in stalls near their animals.
The only ride we ever went on was the “Tilt-A-Whirl”. It was one step up from the Merry Go Round, and it gave me an upset stomach every year. We must have left for home soon after enjoying this exciting ride. I’m not sure when we stopped taking our annual trip, but it was well before our teen years.
Grand River Avenue figured in my life in multiple ways. I walked to both McMichael Junior High and Northwestern High Schools down Grand River. I took the Grand River bus home when I worked at J.L. Hudson’s Department store during several Christmas seasons. In 1971 and 1972, the Black Conscience Library was located at 6505 Grand River and that is my focus in this post.
In 1971 the Black Conscience Library relocated from temporary quarters to 6505 Grand River, the upstairs offices in a building right across the street from Northwestern High School. I continued as librarian for awhile. This was around the time that the heroin epidemic hit inner city Detroit hard. Chimba, one of the active members of the Library, was from the North End community. I remember him saying that the year before they had a baseball team, but that in 1971 there were so many heroin addicts in the community that they couldn’t get a team together. It was Chimba’s idea to start a methadone program in the Black Conscience Library to help addicts get off drugs. This was before it was widely known that methadone was a powerful, addictive drug in it’s own right. Eventually, the drug program over shadowed all other Library programs. I spent less time there and eventually got a job as assistant teacher at Merrill Palmer preschool. I still came around but not everyday and not as librarian. It was pretty depressing up there.
There were lines of junkies waiting to collect their scripts, men and women. Some brought their children. In the beginning, I watched the kids while the parents went to the lectures. I remember one baby with a bottle full of milk so spoiled it was like cottage cheese.
We came to the Library one morning to find it had been broken into the night before. All of the printing equipment and the tape recorder were securely locked up. There were no prescriptions laying around. Nothing was stolen, but we couldn’t figure out how they got in, until I noticed glass from the skylight on the table. They had come through the skylight. One night someone was found hiding in the Men’s room hoping nobody would notice they were there so they could rob the place. Another man tried to break in one early morning. Luckily, he couldn’t get through the front chained door. I remember a junkie who nodded off and fell out of his seat during the planning session for a radio program.
There were a few non-drug related activities. One I remember, was a panel discussion on the role of the father in parenting that was presented by several ex-members of SNCC (Student Non-violent Co-ordinating Committee). There were karate classes. One night I had come back after a particularly trying day and a car crashed into the shop downstairs. I caught a plane to visit my sister in Atlanta the next day. Those were the days of cheap standby tickets. I remember The Last Poets record playing over and over and over. The relief when the drug program ended.
This is one of a three page surveillance report from October 29, 1971 is from Jim’s police file. We knew they were watching, but when we got this report several years ago it was still creepy to see how much time they were actually spending watching, following, keeping track. “N/M” = Negro Male. “N/F” = Negro Female.
The window on the top left was our bedroom window.
In 2004 I spent a day driving around Detroit taking photographs of places where I used to live and of other houses family members lived in. The angle of this house fit almost perfectly with the photograph taken in 1953 of my father with my little sister Pearl and me. We are in front of the parsonage on Atkinson. My father was the minister of St. Mark’s Presbyterian Church, two blocks up the street on the corner of 12th Street and Atkinson.
My sister and I shared the bedroom on the upper left. We used to look out of the side window into the attic of Carol and Deborah. They were our age and lived next door and got to stay up much later then we did. They had a wonderful playroom in the attic. I taught Pearl to read by the streetlight shinning into our bedroom. I don’t know why we waited until we were supposed to be in the bed to teach and learn reading.
Sometimes after Pearl was asleep, I would kneel in front of the windows and look out. I remember an amazing pale pink Cadillac. The cars I had seen up until then were dark colors. I remember looking out of that window and watching for my mother to get home. Was she taking night classes while working on her teaching certificate?
On our other side lived Eleanor Gross with her family. Eleanor was a teenager and babysat with us during the rare times our parents went out. My paternal grandparents lived down the street.
This photo first appeared on my blog in 2012 in a post about my grandparents magical yard. I used that post again in June of 2017. This time I am only posting the picture of my sister looking glamorous and me looking worried as we stand next to our trusty mounts. Neither of us can remember where we went on those horses. I remember a pillow/saddle that was made of some shiney purple fabric. That may have been the one I am leaning on.
From 1976 to 1984 I lived in Mississippi and raised some goats, children and chickens. These are four of the goats. They needed their hoofs trimmed. I could talk their language. Recently I realized that it would have been a lot less trouble to go buy a couple of gallons of milk instead of milking all those goats twice a day, buying their feed and trying to keep them confined before I gave that up and just let them wander the area, losing garden after garden as they figured out how to break in and eat it. However, it was an experience for the whole family that would not have been replicated by buying milk.
You can read more about those years in these posts:
I spent much time in the summer of 1967 at my Uncle Louis’ cottage in Idlewild, MI. I was there when the Detroit Riot/Rebellion broke out and remember driving into the city on that first Sunday when it began. You can read more about that here Detroit Rebellion Journal.
I spent a lot of time that summer swimming and skating. I don’t have any photos of me skating but I have this whole series of a dive. My sister Pearl, my cousin Jan and my mother also make brief appearances. My Uncle Henry took the photos.
When I was growing up we spent Saturdays at my mother’s parents house, along with my cousins Dee Dee and Barbara and later, Marilyn. When the weather was good we spent it outside in the backyard. There was a vegetable garden, lots of flowers and space for anything we could think of.
In the summer of 1953 I turned 7 in August. Dee Dee turned 10 in September. Barbara had already turned 6 in January. Pearl was 4.5 until December. Poppy was 64. He would retire in December of that year when he turned 65. The yard was surrounded on all sides by a wooden fence that made it feel like a world apart. In the photographs I can see the big house across the alley and a factory on Warren but when I was playing in the yard I didn’t much notice those things.
Pearl and I are holding dolls and I have a purse I remember getting when we lived in Springfield, MA. A young lady who might have been the church secretary had a grown up purse just like it. It was brown leather and had a golden metal clasp that turned to open and close. Looks like collards with the poison Poppy sprinkled to kill the cabbage worms. I think I see a little cabbage butterfly holding on to the underside one of the leaves.
I am standing up at the table where Barbara and I are making something. Dee Dee is sitting on the arm of the swing. She was probably taking Pearl somewhere on the magic carpet (aka swing) the rider would have to say “Geni of the magic carpet, go, go, go!” and then Dee Dee would take you someplace magic. She would tell you where it was when it was time for you to get out of the swing. Dee Dee was in charge of all the magic. Each of our households had a little, invisible fairy that lived in the mud castle we built and rebuilt at the foot of the apple tree. Their’s was named Lucy and ours was Pinky. She also kept a box full of prizes that she gave out at appropriate times. I remember packages of soda crackers, prizes from cereal boxes and pieces of chewing gum.
Here Pearl and I are standing on the grassy part of the yard. The flowers are in full bloom behind us with the vegetables back behind them. We often made the saw horses into mounts. I see my purse over there on the grass to the left.
I have participated in Sepia Saturday for so many years that it is hard for me to come up with new photos when the same sorts of prompts come around. This week I am recycling a post from 2012.
“They set up a table in our room with a white tablecloth and a test tube bud vase. It was a good meal. I had thought I wouldn’t be able to have the dinner and had to call Jim at the Reeses to come eat. I had been on a special diet until that afternoon. James slept very nicely through the whole meal.”
Story of James Birth From His Baby Book – 1982
James was born during an ice storm. Actually the ice storm began the day before he was born. We went into Jackson (we were living about half an hour away in Simpson County at the time) when the storm started because I started having mild contractions about the same time. We stayed with a family with 6 children Jim worked with sometimes in printing. The first night I woke up and the contractions were stronger and we went to the hospital, but they faded away at the hospital and we went back to the Reece’s house. She said she knew I wasn’t really in labor because I was checking on everyone before I left. The next day my water broke and there was some meconium staining in the show. We went back to the hospital around 2 in the afternoon. I said I hoped they wouldn’t have to send me home again but Dr Barnes said since my water broke I wouldn’t be leaving until the baby came.
I was in the same birthing suite I used when Tulani was born. And had the same nurses. They hooked me up to the monitor because of the meconium and even attached a wire to James head to “get a better reading”. I remember thinking as I was laying there listening to the nurses talking and going about their business, that there I was laying there in labor and yet they were living their regular lives. They weren’t actually involved in it at all. I imagine it’s sort of like when you’re dying. But that’s neither here nor there.
I started pushing at 6:30PM and figured the baby would be born soon. After an hour of second stage labor and pushing the head still wasn’t engaged. I remarked between contractions that I hoped it wasn’t going to take me until midnight for the baby to be born. (I said that because each of the babies was born three hours later then the last one and Tulani was born around 9 PM.) Dr. Barnes said they weren’t going to wait that long, if he (she was sure it was a boy because he was causing so much trouble, she said) wasn’t born in an hour she was going to do a c-section. That hadn’t even entered my mind. Soon she sent all the nurses that were waiting for the birth off to get ready. I tried getting on my knees like I had with Ayanna, but to tell the truth, the mood was ruined. I just wanted to get the whole thing over with. If the baby was going to require a c-section, just go on and do it, I thought. Of course afterwards I wondered if I’d tried pushing awhile longer if he would have come on down.
On the way to the delivery room I asked Dr. Barnes if she would tie my tubes since I was going to be opened up and she said yes and I didn’t have to sign any papers, I think Jim did. And she gave me a tubal. Afterwards, when I found out that once you have a c-section you don’t always have to have a c-section if it’s not structural, I wished I hadn’t.
James was born at 8:17PM. He was 22 and 3/4 inches long and weighted 8 lbs and 12 ozs. He was fine and nursed fine and kept on growing. His Apgar score was 9 at one minute and 10 at three minutes.
My mother told me that we should name James for my husband. So we did. She was very ill with cancer and died five months later without having ever seen baby James.
Detroit March to Freedom down Woodward Ave. 1963. My father is in the 2nd row, looking serious.
On April 4, 1968 when Martin Luther King Jr was murdered, I was a senior art major at Wayne State University in Detroit. I was walking across campus with Jim, who is now my husband, when Rufus and Brenda Griffin stopped and told us what had happened. They offered me a ride home. I lived in the house at 5397 Oregon with my mother and Henry.
I remember going to school the next day and being in my printmaking class when my mother, who NEVER appeared in my classes, walked into the room to tell me riots were breaking out. Duffield, her school had closed (she was a teacher) and we left. We passed a small group of high school students marching down West Grand Blvd. but no violence.
Either that night or the next I was taken to the airport before the curfew so that I could meet my sister Pearl, who was coming in from Howard University, which had been closed due to the disturbance. She was a sophomore. We spent the night at the airport hotel. This assassination, both in itself and coming after so many others was so depressing. I was 21.
The photo above is from my Graham grandparent’s book “A Treasury of Fun”. They received it soon after their marriage in 1919. Although of a certain time and place, it says “home” to me. Maybe I read too many old books. Below is a collage of 4 of my many homes. Click images to enlarge.
When I was growing up, home was where my family lived. I didn’t think about how long we’d be there or where it was, it was home. And when we moved again (as we regularly did), the new place was home. Our familiar furniture and books were there. We ate together in breakfast or dining room, the familiar food. My sister and I did our same chores.
When I was 13 we moved into the first house we bought. We lived there almost 10 years, longer than any place else I lived up to that point. It was at 5397 Oregon. Because it was where we lived the longest, memories of home often center on this house. When I was a senior in college we moved to a 2 family flat with my grandparents. By that time I was planning my escape out into the world and that flat always felt temporary. In 6 month I graduated and was gone.
During my early years on my own, the house I lived in wasn’t always “home”. In my early 20s, I moved 7 times in 3 years. Living in back rooms, attics, other people’s houses, temporary apartments, always waiting/watching for the next place to go.
It usually takes a certain amount of time for a place to feel like home to me. Some places feel more friendly than others. After a year it begins to feel permanent, even though none have been forever so far. Although we usually move everything, or most everything, with us, several times we have not been able to and then home feels bare until we can replace the missing things with different ones. I still wish I could go back and get some of them – the roll top desk, the dressers.
Family, both in the house and in the area, make a house feel like home. A dining table where the household sits and eats meals and plays games. Puzzles, plants, paper, pencils, tools and photographs are always there. Space to work on projects.