I moved often while I was growing up because my father was a minister. When he changed churches, we moved. I have written stories about each house individually. There are links at the bottom of this story. This is an overview of all those houses, with memories.
I was born on August 30, 1946 at 10 PM in the middle of a thunderstorm. The first of the two daughters of Rev. Albert B. and Doris Graham Cleage. I was named Kristin after the heroine of the novel by Sigrid Unset, Kristin Lavransdatter. My father was pastor of the St. John’s Congregational church in Springfield, MA. We lived in the back of the church community house after my father convinced the church to sell the parsonage to pay debts.
Laying on a blanket in the yard looking up at the clouds with my mother. Holding my sister, Pearl, on the way home from the hospital. Sitting on the basement steps while my grandmother washed Pearl’s diapers. Making Halloween cupcakes. Looking at the clearing evening sky after rain. Going to the ice ream parlor with my sister and parents. Leafless trees against the winter sky. The huge statues in a religious procession going past the house. Fall trees, a stream and a dog in the park. Watching the milkman and his horse from my bedroom window. Ribbon candy at Christmas.
When I was four my father got a church in Detroit and we moved there. All of the grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins were there. We moved into a house down the street from my paternal grandparents a few aunts and uncles lived there too. I began kindergarten at Brady Elementary.
My grandfather picking up a baby bird and giving it little pieces of bacon. Not being allowed out of the yard. Being late for school all the time. A movie about white and red corpuscles fighting infection. Painting at the easel.
I attended first grade at Brady. During second grade I had pneumonia and missed the rest of that year my father was involved in a church fight and led a faction away to start another church. We moved. During the summer before we moved, my mother, sister and I stayed with my mother’s parents on the east side. My father stayed with his parents. My mother was taking classes in education at Wayne State University.
Playing “Sorry” at my grandparent’s kitchen table. Listening to the radio soaps. Going to meet my mother at the bus stop and collecting dropped flowers that we made into a slimy mud pie soup. Eating grated cheese and Ritz crackers. Going to the creamery with my grandfather to buy vanilla ice cream. Climbing up on the pile of logs against the wooden fence to look into the alley. The electrical storm when we sat in the living room, waiting for my mother to come home. Crying when she finally got there, telling of jumping over downed wires.
In the fall we all moved into a big stone house that would be mostly the church community house and incidentally we would live upstairs. The choir practiced downstairs, the youth group met in the basement rec room; they had card parties in the living room and piano lessons in the morning room. They all used the kitchen. It was kind of adventurous living in such a large mostly empty house with servant’s quarters in the attic and buttons that lit up on a numbered board in the kitchen when pressed in each room. At least my sister and I thought so. My mother didn’t feel that way. When I was eight my parent were divorced. It was a “friendly divorce”. We moved into a flat closer to Roosevelt elementary school that my sister and I attended and my mother was a beginning teacher. My sister and I went everyday to my father’s for lunch. He came by and visited. Neither one talked negatively about the other. My sister and I took piano lessons from Mr. Manderville and dance lessons at Toni’s School of Dance on Dexter.
Learning how to ride a bike. My great grandmother dying. Two more cousins being born. My aunt and three cousins staying with us while their family looked for a house. Saturdays my mother picked up her sister and three daughters and the seven of us drove over to the east side and spent the day at her parent’s. Vegetable and flower gardens, bird bath, swing, dirt, snowball tree, marigolds and a big brass bed we jumped up and down on
and slid through the bars of. Plays my older cousin Dee Dee wrote and we put on and on and on for the adults. My grandmother’s aunt who gave us rosaries and told us about cutting her mother’s mother’s (who she said was from Africa) toenails, while my cousin was cutting her toenails. Sundays after church at my other grandmothers where she had milk, tea and ice water on the table and the butter in little pats on a saucer and candles. The endless discussion of politics, race, church around that table. Getting my own room. Going to the fish house and the zoo and picnics at Belle Isle. Making dolls. Learning to roller-skate and ride a bike. Having a “best friend”. Reading, reading and reading. Roosevelt Elementary School changing from 99% Jewish to 99% Black.
When I was twelve I graduated from Roosevelt and went to Durfee Junior High School next door. Because of over crowding I was double promoted. A year later my mother bought a house on Oregon Street and we moved to the McMicheal school district. I transferred there while my sister continued at Roosevelt where she was a sixth grader. I was in the church youth group.
Going home after graduation with my best friend Deidre and having a snowball fight. Finding everybody else knew how to dance and I didn’t. How big Durfee seemed. My crazy seventh grade math teacher. Learning how to swim. Getting home before everybody. Never finding my way around McMicheal. Chaos during TV science classes. Learning how to sew. Making pineapple muffins and pineapple muffins and more pineapple muffins. My cousin growing out of playing ‘imaginary land” on Saturdays. Wishing I had enough money to get everybody a really good Christmas present. Arguing with my sister about who was supposed to do the dishes. Making doughnuts. Not getting “Chose” at youth group dances.
When I was 15 my mother remarried. She married my father’s brother, a lawyer, who was then a printer and started to put out a black paper, the illustrated news. I attended Northwestern High School. Favorite classes were Spanish and swimming. I was on the Swim Team. Worked at the Printing Plant one summer. Baby-sat another. My family bought an old farmhouse on two acres near Wixom, Michigan. We went there on weekend and longer in the summer.
Discovering Socialism, Revolution and Cuba. Telling an English teacher I certainly had nothing in common with Holden Caulfield. The freedom rides, school integration, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Kennedy’s assassination. The four little girls in Birmingham bombed at Sunday school. Being at the church Christmas bazaar while the Russian boats were headed for Cuba. Bare trees against the winter evening gray/peach sky. Not wanting to participate in graduation. Not going to the prom. Not wanting to. The green fields at the farm under a heavy grey, clearing sky after a summer. Not going on dates. Wanting to be able to say I had a boyfriend, but not wanting anyone I knew for one. Feeling like an outsider.
I attended Wayne State University from Sept 1964 until graduating in December 1968 with a Bachelors degree in Fine Arts. I worked in the cafeteria, in the school library, at the Center for the Application of Science and Technology, as the art director of the student newspaper, The South End. During Christmas vacations I worked as a saleslady in the Children’s only shop at downtown Hudson’s. One summer I worked in the pharmacy of the North Detroit General Hospital. I maintained a 3.0 average. Joined the Afro-American Action Committee and demonstrated against the war in Vietnam. Met my husband, Jim. My sister went off to study play writing at Howard University. My stepfather went back into law. We moved into a flat on Fairfield with my mother’s parents living downstairs. I did not attend my graduation.
I remember …
Meetings. Meetings about the war in Vietnam, meetings about Black Student concerns, community meetings, political meetings, meetings about meetings. Seeing Jim from my writing class and running down four flights of stairs before realizing I need to be in that class. Both grandmothers saying that girl is in love. The Pentagon March against the war in Vietnam, Visiting my sister at Howard. Being tired of school and home and wanting to be on my own. Dropping a tray full of dishes in the cafeteria and the diners applauding. Reading Kristin Lavernsdatter. Hanging out at the Montieth Center. Putting out “A Happenin’. Malcolm X’s assassination. MLK’s assassination. The 1967 rebellion. Passing out campaign information at the polls. Bell Bottom jeans. Richard Grove Holmes, “Song for my Father.” Doing a two-color separation cover of the South End. Being hopelessly in love. Spending the night with Jim. Eating oranges in the snack bar. Hippies. Afros. Black pride. Black Power. Freedom Now. Graduating from Wayne and taking the bus west, to San Francisco. Leaving home. Grown.
Specific memories of each of the many childhood houses (including floor plans) I lived in can be found in the following posts: