I remember Santa from my childhood but it wasn’t an important part and I don’t have any memorable memories. My cousin Anna did though and here is one of hers from our family newsletter, the Ruff Draft 1991. In the photograph above Maria is the child on the left and Anna is the child on the right. Their father, Winslow is behind them at the door smiling in profile.
Anna writes, My memories aren’t all that clear, but there is one that shines bright in my mind. It was one Christmas Eve, when Maria and I were about six and eight years old. We had just tucked ourselves into bed for the night. Suddenly we heard a tinkling, jingling sound. We both looked at each other with mouths open wide and eyes sparkling with excitement. We knew it was Santa for sure. We scrambled out of bed and raced for the steps. We got to the landing, almost tumbling down the stairs in our haste, and there he was…NOT Santa Claus, but DADDY! There he was, grinning from ear to ear, holding a glass, hitting it gently with a silver spoon. If we had had our pillows we would have pelted Dad right there, but instead we just laughed hilariously. It was and still is a great memory.
Another memory from Ruff Draft 1990, this time mine.
I remember the first year I was old enough to try and buy presents for all my relatives. I must have been about 12 or 13. I just had my allowance. I saved up and got presents for several great aunts, seven or eight cousins, parents, a sister, numerous aunts and uncles and my grandparents. There was a dime store in Milford, Michigan where we used to go when we spent time up at the farm on Old Plank Road. There I bought several perfume atomizers for the great aunts and a set of wooden alphabet blocks for little Blair and a cast iron trivet with a country snow scene for my mother. I bought something for everybody. I don’t know why I didn’t make cookies or something. I don’t remember how anybody liked their gifts but I worried a lot about if they would or not.
This is another memory from the December 1990 Ruff Draft, a family newsletter we put out for 5 years. My daughter Ayanna interviewed my Uncle Henry and wrote this from the interview. The photo was probably taken several years earlier than the memory. It was taken by the house on Scotten on the old west side of Detroit about 1925.
Henry Cleage remembers when his Aunt Gertrude won a nice new shiny bike. He just knew she would give it to him for Christmas. On Christmas Eve he was sitting in the living room with his father after the younger kids had gone to bed. His father said, “Henry, go over to your Aunt’s and get that bike … for Hugh.” Henry thought he would never enjoy Christmas again, but that after seeing Hugh so happy with the bike he decided it was all worth it. Even so he said that Christmas was never the same for him. It had lost some of the magic.
From 1990 until 1996 we put out a family newsletter called the Ruff Draft. In December of 1990 we solicited Christmas Memories from our readers, who were mostly relatives. On the days of the Advent Calendar series when I don’t have anything to say I’ve decided to run one of these memories. Here is the first one from my mother’s older sister. In the photo is my little mother Doris (1923-1982) and her sister Mary V. (1921-2009). It was taken in their backyard on Detroit’s east side.
I can remember Poppy waiting till Xmas Eve to go and get our tree. We (Doris and I) usually went with him…and bringing it home to decorate. He had a stand that he made himself. We went up to the attic to haul down boxes of decorations that had been carefully put away. Some very old. I can remember one little fat Santa that Mom always put in the window, he had a pipe in his mouth. Doris and I shared a bedroom which had the door to the attic in it. When we were at the “believe in Santa Claus stage” we thought that once we went to sleep he would tip down the attic stairs and put our toys, etc, under said tree. I think I laid awake waiting for the old boy to show up. Of course I never saw him ’cause I went to sleep, but the stuff was always under the tree. Mom was always busy in the kitchen getting stuff together for Xmas dinner and the house would be full of wonderful odors. If Xmas fell on a Sunday, we would go to church. And we used to have lots of snow. Although we came up during the depression, we always had something to eat and something under the ole tree even if it wasn’t what we asked for. It was a tradition that Xmas dinner was at our house and Thanksgiving dinner at Grandma Turner’s. Daddy cooked the ole turkey and made the most delicious stuffing. He could cook. Mom learned from him. She couldn’t boil water when they got married. Dad taught her cause he had worked in restaurants as a young man.
My Aunts both identified the woman in this photo as Mary Agnes Miller and the man as George Payne. He appeared in this blog earlier with his brother Paul and my uncle Hugh here. One of my aunts says that Mary Agnes was very striking, and a nice person. The guys fell over each other over her. She had beautiful skin and although Mary didn’t act like a diva, people treated her like one. My aunt attended Wayne State University with both Mary Agnes and George.
My other cousin wrote “Mom said that Mary Agnes married Ed Davis. He was the first black owner of a car dealership, Studabakers. So, you might be able to google some information on him. Mom also said that Mary was very active in the Delta sorority. Hope that lets you dig further. :).” You can see the type of reputation I have among family members – I ask questions and then google people. I did google him and came up with quite a few articles and photographs. His life was very interesting. The link under the photo will take you to one article as well as being the source of the photo.
George Payne was Paul’s brother. He was not cool, my aunt said, but was goofy and very nice. I tried googling George with no luck, but I did find his wedding photograph in the family photo box. I really need to scan the rest of those photos and mount them in an album. I remember his wife Velma who was a librarian at the Oakman branch library where I used to go as a child. The book I remember best from that library is “Bed knob and Broomstick: or How to be a Witch in 10 Easy Lessons.” Velma Payne died this year I found when I googled “Velma Payne Detroit Public Library” (without the quotes) and a Detroit Retired City Employees newsletter with deaths by month came up.
Both aunts agreed that the original photograph was not taken at the Meadows but do not recognize where it was taken.
When I was growing up in the 1950’s lights were rare in my neighborhood. I remember the first lights I saw. My family moved into the huge house above in 1952 after a church fight in which my father, a pastor, and 300 parishioners left St. Marks Presbyterian church to organize Central Congregational Church. During the time before a new church building was found and purchased the church met at Crossman School on Sundays while all other activities were held at the house above. We lived on the second floor, church activities were on the first floor and in the very large recreatuion room in the basement. My sister and I shared the bedroom marked with the red X. On the side was a window (marked Z) that we could look out of at night and see a house in the next block outlined in multicolored lights. We called it the gingerbread house and thought it was beautiful and unique. I don’t remember ever riding by when the lights were on. We lived on the westside of Detroit while one set of grandparents lived on the eastside. Driving from one house to the other we would be coming home after dark and I remember looking at people’s lit Christmas trees through the windows, I don’t remember any outdoor lights. In later years that changed. I think my west side grandparents eventually had lights and some carolers out in front. My youngest son always wanted to put lights outside our house but since we lived at the end of a dead end road in the middle of the Manistee National Forest at the time, it never happened.
Our tree was always real. My sister, my mother and I would go to a tree lot to pick it about a week before Christmas. This was Detroit and in my memory it is cold and there is snow on the ground. We picked short needled trees of medium height and (of course) well shaped. We used a mix of glass balls my mother had collected over the years. When we were old enough, I can’t remember when that was, we helped decorate the tree – after my mother put on the beads, the tinsel and the multicolored lights. We had the big lights but they were pointy. My grandparents had round lights. The icicles went on last and there was no tossing. It was put on a few pieces at a time up and down all the branches. I remember one year that my mother did not want to trim the tree and was pretty unpleasant about my sister and me doing it and doing it NOW, but usually it was a pleasant evening, either Christmas eve or close to it. My mother usually had on the CBC, the Canadian station and by that time they would be playing Christmas music. The tree was always beautiful.
My maternal grandparents, Nanny and Poppy, waited until Christmas eve to buy the tree and set it up. The tree was always scrawny and thin but that was how their tree was supposed to be. Their ornaments were very old. I wonder what happened to them. What I remember are some little Santas that went on the tree and a jolly Father Christmas looking Santa that stood in the window with his removable pipe. My paternal grandparents had a bigger house and a big, full, long needled tree that was in the corner of the living room next to the stairs. My uncles Louis and Hugh plus my aunt Barbara and cousin Ernie lived there in addition to my grandparents so there were always a lot of presents under the tree.
The black and white photographs are all from the same Christmas. I think it was about 1962. I was still in high school, about 15. My sister was two years younger. Unfortunately these were all taken with a polaroid and they show it. The colored photo is from 1968. We had moved into the flat we shared with my grandparents. They were downstairs and we were upstairs. I had just graduated from Wayne State University and was about to head out into the world to seek my fortune. But that’s another story.
My Aunt Gladys Cleage Evans drew this pencil sketch of me after dinner at my grandmother Cleage’s dining room table. I did a sketch of her at the same time. It has been (thankfully) lost. At some point I tore the picture out of my journal notebook and glued it into a scrapbook. This was before I knew what glue can do. I’ve cleaned it up some. Many lively political discussions took place around that table. Click for other Sepia Saturday offerings.
Edward Cleage was my grandfather, Albert Cleage’s brother. This post is a chapter of a memoir written by his daughter, Beatrice in 1990. This is a part of the SepiaSaturday postings.
Memories To Memoirs
Written in 1990
By Beatrice Cleage Johnson
Chapter 2 – Early Years of Life
1926 – I remember the early years of my life living at 216 Ridge Street. We used wood and coal stoves for heating and cooking. I will never forget the range stove that my mother cooked on. She made biscuits every morning for breakfast. There was a warmer at the top of the stove for left overs. I would always search the warmer for snacks. We had an outside toilet. Everyone that we knew had these, so we thought this was it. We never dreamed of ever having inside plumbing.
We had a water hydrant in the front yard and every night it was my job to fill the water buckets which had stainless steel dippers in them. My sister also helped with the chores. My other job was to clean the lamp chimneys. We used oil lamps. Momma always inspected them to see if they were clean. I decided then, if I ever made any money I would have electricity put in our house. And I did. I would babysit during the summers and save my money.
I have always loved poetry. I learned many poems and stories from my mother and sisters, such as “Little Boy Blue” and “Little Red Riding Hood”. I think my favorite food was any kind of fruit. I was always happy to see Summer, when the apples and peaches were plentiful. I always looked forward to Christmas. We never saw any oranges until then. I remember my first doll. It had a china head and straw body. I loved it so much. Momma always made a special white coconut cake for Christmas, which I looked forward to. She made other pies and cakes, but the coconut was my favorite. We didn’t get too many toys for Christmas, but my sisters and I enjoyed everything we got for Christmas.
My father became ill and my mother was to be the sole support of the five girls. I was six years of age when my father passed away in 1926. My youngest sister, Juanita, was three years of age and she didn’t remember him, but I did. After he died my uncles took the two older sisters, Helen and Alberta, to Detroit to live with them. Alberta stayed and finished high school there, but Helen came back home and helped Momma care for the three of us. Ola, Juanita and myself went to high school here.
We always celebrated the holidays. Thanksgiving was very special as my birthday would sometimes come on Thanksgiving Day. We always had special food on these days. Pies, cakes, chicken, rabbit. On Halloween we always dressed in our older sister’s and mother’s clothes. One of the main pranks the boys would do was to push the outside toilets over. We used to beg them not to push ours over. In those days, thre was no trick or treat. It was all tricks. Easter was also special. Momma would make us a new dress for Easter, and Helen always bought me black patent leather slipper.
Family and church members accompanied my father as he signed up to run for City Council in Detroit, MI in 1965. We all have on our Cleage for Council buttons. That’s him in the front with the bow tie. I am looking melancholy over on the left. My cousin Ernie is in the striped sweater. Rev. Hill’s ( assistant pastor) wife in the back with the hat. My grandmother (Pearl Cleage) looking happily proud on the right. This followed the Freedom Now Party loss in 1964 and the 3 + 1 campaign in 1963 and preceded the run for the 13th District congressional seat in 1966.
These campaigns were run as educational, not to win. Not that that wouldn’t have been a welcome surprise. My family talked politics morning noon and night. Not just talked, lived. Two of my uncles started a printing business and for years the family and friends put out The Illustrated News, an eight sheet pink paper where they wrote about the issues of the day, mostly local but as this was the time of the civil rights movement, bombs and demonstrations and riots, there was also some national news. I remember riding in sound cars, passing out information at the polls, silk screening posters, leafleting. The summer of 1966 I spent lots of time with Jim, who is now my husband, campaigning. We capped it off by attending a “Victory Party” for Ken Cockrel, who hadn’t won. Those were the days my friend…