Growing Up – In her Own Words by Doris Graham Cleage – Sepia Saturday #63 & #200

For Sepia Saturday #200, I am re-sharing a piece written by my mother, Doris Graham Cleage, which I first shared in February 2011. I am going to let her tell you about  her home life and early years in this piece compiled from some of her writings when she was in her 50s.  This is my entry for Jasia’s 103rd Carnival of Genealogy, Women’s History and for Sepia Saturday #63.

My mother in the cherry tree in the yard.
My mother in the cherry tree in the yard.

In Her Own Words

My parents married in Montgomery, went to Detroit and roomed with good friends from home, Aunt Jean and Uncle Mose Walker (not really related)  A favorite way to pay for your house was to take in roomers from home and it was a good way for them to accumulate a down payment on their own house.

Mary Vee was born in this house.  It was a very difficult delivery, labor was several days long.  The doctor, whose name was Ames, was a big time black society doctor, who poured too much ether on the gauze over Mother’s face when the time for delivery came.  Mother’s face was so badly burned that everyone, including the doctor, thought she would be terribly scared over at least half of it. But she worked with it and prayed over it and all traces of it went away.  Mary Vee’s foot was turned inward.  I don’t know if this was the fault of the doctor or not, but she wore a brace for years.

Finally that year ended and they bought a flat together with Uncle Cliff and Aunt Gwen (not really related).  Mother got pregnant again very soon.  Mershell Jr. was born the next year, 1921.  I can imagine how she must have felt.  She had never kept house, never cooked and never really had someone who told her what to do since she had worked at eighteen.  She had never taken care of little children or babies.

Meanwhile I guess Daddy was enjoying being the man of the house, treasurer and trustee at Plymouth, with a good job, a good wife and money accumulating in the bank for a home of his own someday.

Their house. Survey photo.

Mershell Jr. was born in1921 at Dunbar Hospital, with a different doctor.  When he was a year old, I was on the way.  The flat was too small.  Grandmother Jennie T. was consulted, sold the house in Montgomery and moved to Detroit with daughters Daisy and Alice.  She and Daddy and Mother bought the Theodore house together in 1923.  I was born in Women’s hospital and came home to that house where I lived for twenty years, until I married.  Mother and Daddy lived in it for 45 years.

Grandmother, Daisy and Alice got good jobs,  sewing fur coats, clean work and good pay, at Annis Furs (remember it back of Hudson’s?)  and soon had money to buy their own house, much farther east, on a “nice” street in a “better ” neighborhood (no factories) on Harding Ave. While they lived with us I remember violent arguments between Alice and I don’t know who – either Grandmother or Daisy or Mother.  Certainly not Daddy because when he spoke it was like who (?) in the Bible who said, “When I say go, they goeth. When I say come, they cometh.”  Most of the time I remember him in the basement, the backyard or presiding at table. Daisy and Grandmother were what we’d call, talkers.

1923, backyard, Detroit – Mary V., Mershell holding my mother Doris.

About four blocks around the corner and down the street from Theodore was a vacant lot where, for some years ,they had a small carnival every year.  I don’t remember the carnival at all.  I never liked rides anyway.  Not even the merry-go-round.  But I remember it being evening, dark outside and we were on the way home.  I don’t remember who was there except Daddy and I.  He was carrying me because I was sleepy so I must have been very small.  I remember my head on his shoulder and how it felt.  The best pillow in the world.  I remember how high up from the sidewalk I seemed to be.  I could hardly see the familiar cracks and printings even when the lights from passing cars lighted things, which was fairly often because we were on Warren Ave.  I remember feeling that that’s the way things were supposed to be.  I hadn’t a worry in the world.  I was tired, so I was carried.  I was sleepy, so I slept. I must have felt like that most of my childhood because it’s still a surprise to me that life is hard.  Seems that should be a temporary condition.

Mershell holding Doris. Fannie. Mershell Jr and Mary V in front of Plymouth Congregational Church. Detroit.

Boy children are very important to some people and my parents were both pleased to have a son.  When Mershell Jr. was killed, run over by a truck on his way to school in 1927, it was a great unhappiness for them.  I remember standing beside Mother at the front door. A big policeman stood on the front porch and told her about her child.  She did not scream, cry or faint.  Daddy was at work.  She could not reach him.  She put on her hat and coat and went to the hospital.  I never saw her helpless.  She always did what had to be done.

Mershell Jr, Mary V., my mother Doris in front. On front porch steps. Detroit, Theodore Street.

Howard was born the next year.  They both rejoiced for here God had sent a son to replace the one they had lost.  He died of scarlet fever at three.  When you read carefully the things she wrote, you’ll know what this meant to her.  But she never took refuge in guilt feelings or hysterics or depressions.  She lived everyday as best she could and I never heard her complain.

Ours was a quiet, orderly house.  Everything happened on schedule. Everything was planned. There were very few big ups and downs.  When Daddy lost his job during the depression and when my brothers died, it was Mother who stayed steady and encouraging and took each day as it came.  Daddy would be very depressed and Mother must have been too, but she never let on.  I do remember one day when I was about seven and Howard had just died.  I came into the kitchen to get a drink of water. She was at the sink peeling potatoes for dinner and tears were running down her cheeks.  I don’t remember what I said or did but she said, “I will be alright, but you go and keep your father company.”  I did, and I’m sure her saying that and my constant companionship with my father influenced my life profoundly.  She was thinking of him in the midst of what was, I think the most unhappy time in her life.  How could God send them a second son and then take him, too?

I remember…when I was very young seven or eight – if I got very angry I would go upstairs by myself-take an old school notebook and write, “I will not be angry” over and over until I wasn’t angry anymore.  Anger was rarely expressed in our house.  I only remember my father and mother arguing twice as long as I lived at home – and I was twenty before I left. But my sister and I fought often.  Antagonism was the strongest feeling we had for each other.

Back: Aunt Daisy, Grandmother Turner, my grandmother Fannie.           Front: Mary V. Mershell Jr and my mother Doris. 1927, backyard Theodore, Detroit.

 Aunt Daisy took us downtown to the show every summer and to Saunders for ice cream afterward.  And I always ended up with a splitting headache.  Too much high living I guess.  She and Alice would buy us dainty, expensive little dresses from Siegel’s or Himelhoch’s.  They all went to church every Sunday at  Plymouth (Congregational). Daisy always gave us beautiful tins of gorgeous Christmas candy, that white kind filled with gooey black walnut stuff, those gooey raspberry kind and those hard, pink kind with a nut inside, also chocolates, of course!

From top: my grandmother Fannie, my mother Doris picking something off of baby Howard who is held by my grandfather Mershell. Backyard of Theodore house, Detroit.

I lived at home until I finished college and married.  Everyday when I got home from school the minute I opened the door I knew what we were having for dinner.  The house would be full of the good smell of spaghetti or meat loaf or greens or salmon croquettes or pork chops and gravy or steak and onions.  We had hot biscuits or muffins every day.  My father did not like “store bought” bread.  I hardly knew what it tasted like until I married.  Our friends were welcome.  The house was clean. Our clothes were clean and mended.

Mary V, Howard, my mother Doris. 1930. Detroit, MI.

Mother often spoke of friends in Montgomery but I never knew her to have a close friend.  She was friendly with everyone, especially the Deaconesses with whom she worked at church. She was basically very reserved and what people call today a “very private person”.  I don’t remember ever hearing her say “I want” for herself.  Oh, she often said, “I want the best for my girls” or “I want you to be good girls” but I never heard her say “I want a new dress… or a day off… or a chocolate bar…”  and I never heard her say “I feel this way or that” except sometimes she said, “Oh, I feel so unnecessary.”  She was a great one for duty, for doing what was called for and not complaining.  You could tell when she was displeased by the expression on her face. Whenever she corrected us, she always explained why, so we came pretty early to know what was expected of us and when we erred the displeased expression was all we needed.  She didn’t nag either.  No second and third warning.  Yet I don’t remember ever being spanked by either parent.  If either one said, “Did you hear what I said?”, that did it.

We never talked back to them.  We did things we knew we weren’t supposed to do like all children, but we were careful not to get caught.  When we did get caught, we were horrified.  I never felt confined and resentful, but Mary Vee did.

Mother had some of the same reserve with us that she had with strangers.  We rarely talked about feelings, good or bad.  She and Daddy tried to keep things as even and calm as possible all the time.  So everybody cried alone although you always knew they would do anything for you because they did.  You didn’t bring your problems home and share them.  You came home and found the strength to deal with those problems.  At least I did.  If you needed help, you asked for it, but first you did everything you could.  I don’t think they ever said no to either of us when we asked for help and that extended to grandchildren too.

My mother’s grandmother, Jennie V. Turner.

Memories of her grandmother, Jennie V. Turner

I remember her laughing and singing and dancing around the house on Theodore. She was short, about five feet I guess, with brown eyes, thin dark brown hair that she wore in a knot. She was very energetic, always walking fast.  She always wore oxfords, often on the wrong feet, and never had time to change them.  We used to love to tell her that her shoes were on the wrong feet.  (smart kids!)

She never did things with us like read to us or play with us, but she made us little dresses.  I remember two in particular she made me that I especially liked.  My “candy-striped” dress – a red white and blue small print percale.  She put a small pleated ruffle around the collar and a larger one around the bottom. I was about five, I guess, and I really thought I was cool!  the other favorite was an “ensemble” – thin, pale green material with a small printed blue green and red flower in it – just a straight sleeveless dress with neck and sleeves piped in navy blue – and a three – quarter length coat of the same material – also straight -with long sleeves and lapels – also piped in navy blue.  She never used a pattern.  Saw something and made it!  She taught us some embroidery which she did beautifully but not often. She never fussed at us – never criticized – and I think she rocked me in the upstairs hall on Theodore when I was little and sick.  The rocker Daddy made stood in that hall.  I remember lots of people rocking in that chair when I was small.

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Trying for shadows in this also? – Sepia Saturday #62

It was in the 1930’s, as the Cleage brothers reached their twenties, that the “art photos” began.  Before that, there are some actual studio photos and lots of snapshots.  Then we begin to get photos like these, where someone was experimenting, this time with shadow.  The first photo to the upper right is of Paul Payne.  There was another photo of him, younger, with Hugh Cleage here.  Paul was a long time friend of the Cleage family.  Above on the left we have the verso of Paul’s photo which says “Tried for shadows in this also?”  All three of these photos have the same number.. To the right, we have Barbara Cleage with a double shadow.  And below right we have Anna Cleage and Paul, again with strong shadows.

From this period we have many posed portraits of family members.  Some are 8 x 10 and some are snap shots.  None of them are signed so I don’t know who took them except for the ones that my father took of my mother in California since he was the only one there.  The largest group of snapshots taken during this time, including last week’s Wordless Wednesday photographs of the winter scenes, were taken at the Meadows. (Go to the last paragraph on the linked page to learn more about the Meadows)  There are over one hundred of them, from all seasons and spread over several years.  My Aunt Gladys confirmed that her brother Hugh did set up a darkroom in the basement.

During the 1960’s Henry and Hugh went into the printing business.  They had several presses, a darkroom, an enlarger and more cameras.  I have boxes and boxes that used to hold 5 X 7 film that now hold photographs taken during that time.  More in the weeks to come.  To see more Sepia Saturday entries click HERE.

Photos, Photos Everywhere – Sepia Saturday #60

This week I spent hours putting my photographs from the paternal side in order.  First by grouping them into piles according to the numbers on the reverse side.  After dividing them up by number, I then started dating the files.  I was able to determine who some of the babies were in later photos by which siblings were already there and how old they were.  I will show some of these in a later post.  It’s been slow going and I almost missed Sepia Saturday.  However I thought I should make an entry.  Above you see some of the piles.

These two photographs have the same number.  I have wondered for years if that boy with the stocking cap on standing next to the car was my father.  When I saw the photo of my Uncle Louis (on the left) and my father, Albert, with the stocking cap, I saw it was him.  There are other photos that have both boys that have different numbers but they appear to be taken at the same time on one of the family’s annual trips to Athens Tennessee, my grandfather’s hometown.  One brother, Edward, remained in Athens.  The rest of the family ended up first in Indianapolis, IN and then in Detroit, MI.

Here are some other posts about the Athens branch of the Cleages.
Uncle Ed’s daughters – 1917.  Memories to Memoirs, and Juanita and Daughters.

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The Whole Bunch – Sepia Saturday #59

Today I spread all my Cleage photos out on the table and began putting them into order by number or date.  While I was doing this, I found another photograph in the sequence that I posted about twice this week.  Click here to see the photo of my grandparents, where I speculate that it was taken soon after their marriage.  Several people wondered what he was holding over his shoulder.  Click here to read about my discovery of the numbers on the back of most of the photographs.

I can see the people more clearly in this group photograph but, it is in bad shape.  Starting from the left, are two headless women and I don’t know who they are. The little girl is my Aunt Barbara, next to her is my Uncle Hugh, Uncle Louis, Uncle Henry, Theodore Page (who looks like he has a double), a mystery girl, and the FLAG that my grandfather held over his shoulder.  Behind them are, an unknown man, my great grandmother Celia Rice Cleage Sherman, her son Jacob, my father Albert “Toddy”,  three people I don’t know then my grandfather Albert B. Cleage Sr.  In the background are some other people.  I don’t know who they are or where they are.

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Three sisters – Sepia Saturday #58

The Graham sisters were on my Finding Eliza blog, along with the next generation of Cleage sisters – my sister and me.  Here are my aunts, the original Cleage sisters in the early 1940’s.  Barbara, Gladys and Anna.  For more Sepia Saturday posts click here.

Picnic With Hats 1919

This photograph is dated September 1, 1919. The people from left to right are – my Grandfather Mershell C. Graham (aka Poppy), Mrs. Hicks from Chicago and Moses L. Walker. They seem to be having a picnic. I don’t know who Mrs. Hicks is. She only appears in the photos from this day. Uncle Moses wasn’t actually our uncle. He was the uncle of our cousins and an old friend of my grandparents from Montgomery, Alabama. My grandparents roomed with the Walkers when they first moved up to Detroit in 1918 and they were my Aunt Mary V.’s Godparents.

I have transcribed below part of an interview my cousin Margret did with Uncle Moses daughter, Mignon.

Today is May 15, 1986. I am going to interview Mignon Walker Brown, my cousin.

Margaret: So now where did your mother and father meet?
Mignon: In Memphis.
Margaret: And how did that come about? Have you any idea?
Mignon: Yes. My father was from Montgomery but he went to Tuskegee to School. And he became a protégé of Dr. George Washington Carver and he wanted to go to business school so Dr. Carver made arrangements for him to get a job at Iowa State University to go to the business school for a year.
Margaret: George Washington Carver?
Mignon: George Washington Carver.
Margaret: Not Booker T. Washington?
Mignon: George Washington Carver.
Margaret: I never knew that.
Mignon: As a matter of fact, my father was very disappointed when I was born that I wasn’t a boy because I was to be named George Washington Carver. (Laughter.)
At any rate, Daddy went to Iowa and stayed the year. He did not graduate because he thought he had made an A in one course and they gave him a B and he would not accept the diploma. But he left there and his older sister lived in what was then Indian Territory before it became the State of Oklahoma.
Margaret: Which sister was that? Susan?
Mignon: His oldest sister Annie.
Margaret: Annie?
Mignon: Not Annie, Susie, his oldest sister Susie who was married and living there. And his occupation was to…. he had a mule that he rode and sold Bibles to the Indians. And in his last illness we were sitting… there used to be a program on television. He would look at this town and say, My goodness, the people who did these sets certainly knew what they were doing because it looked exactly like that town because he had traveled throughout the West.
He came back and went to Mississippi and worked for a man who had a grocery store, a general store, and he used to go to Memphis to buy for the store and in those days he had just come from the West and he wore his hair like Buffalo Bill, long and they used to tease my mother about her boyfriend with the curls. But anyway, this is how she met him because he went to Memphis to buy for the store.
Margaret: And what did she do? What was she doing then?
Mignon: My mother?
Margaret: Umm humm.
Mignon: Just living with my grandmother. She didn’t do anything.
Margaret: Where did she go to school?
Mignon: Chicago. She finished high school in Chicago.
Margaret: I see.
Mignon: And she became a milliner. Then she decided to go back to Memphis and she didn’t have to work.
Margaret: Now they married in Memphis?
Mignon: They married in Memphis and went to Washington to live. They married in 1908. At that time my father was working in the Treasury Department in Washington.

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Winter Springfield, Mass – 1949

I’m in the front, my mother is propping up my sister Pearl.  My father took the photo in our yard.  He was the pastor of St. John’s Congregational Church in Springfield Massachusetts and we lived in the parsonage/community house right next to the church.  We moved to my parents hometown, Detroit, when I was four where we still had plenty of snow.

These photographs are in a crumpling album that my father put together back in the 1940’s.  He wrote comments on all the photographs. I have to photograph or scan them before they disappear.

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The Meadows 1940s – Sepia Saturday #52

This photo is from a small black album I got from my uncle Henry.  It had a lot of small photographs that look like they were cut from a contact sheet.  They were pasted on themed pages, a page for my father, a page for each of his siblings, a page for several close family friends, etc.  The pages and pictures aren’t labeled.  I hope my aunts can shed some light on who the people in the picture are and if it was taken at the Meadows near Detroit.  Judging by the ages of the people I know in the album I think the photos were taken in the early 1940’s.