A father’s day card for my husband. Children across the bottom, grandchildren down the side. Photographs and other items from our early years, 1966 to 1970. Including, the Detroit riot 12th and Atkinson, Jim in the Coast guard, Revolution Begins in the Mind poster from the Black Conscience, friends, some of my art work and a drawing of a man and child in a leisure suit by Jim, a brochure from the black Conscience Library. Jim with the red checked shirt. Me leaning forward with the sleeveless shirt and afro.
I came across this photograph of my oldest daughter, Jilo, while organizing my photographs. I like the shadows. This one was in the box marked “Detroit 1966 – 1972”. We were living in Brewster projects. I was teaching pre-k at Merrill Palmer Institute, which was within walking distance. I didn’t drive and walked or took the bus everywhere. Jim was there part of the time. He was a community organizer, still running the Black Conscience Library and also working out of a center on 12th Street. I wasn’t yet pregnant with my second daughter and hadn’t decided to move to Atlanta, where my sister lived. A year later in March, I would have two daughters and all of us would be living in Atlanta. I worked with the Institute of the Black World for awhile. Jim got a job printing with the Atlanta Voice. When he told me I could stop working outside, I gave notice and stayed home with my six week old and almost three year old. It was all a long time ago.
Photos starting from the top left: Jim getting ready to blow out the flaming inferno that was the candles on the cake in 2002. Jim and Warren celebrating together at a surprise party in Idlewild about 1990. The cousins around the table to celebrate Cousin Warren’s (wearing the lai) birthday about 1958. That is me at the far end of the table. On the bottom row we have another table full of cousins (children of those in the previous photo) celebrating the combined party of Jim and Warren. Jim successfully blowing out all those candles. Last photo is Jim last year opening his gifts.
When I was growing up my cousin Warren celebrated his birthday with a family party after Christmas on December 30. There we cousins are on the upper right getting ready to eat cake. There was always punch, cake, ice cream and chips. Maybe hot dogs? Plus balloons and birthday presents. Being close to Christmas didn’t seem to impact his birthday. My sister Pearl’s birthday is December 7, which doesn’t seem that close to Christmas. We didn’t do parties but had a cake and she received presents just like I did for my august birthday.
My husband, Jim, comes from a family with 12 children. Three of them were born very close to Christmas. Milton was born on Christmas Eve, Catherine was born on Christmas day and my husband was born on December 30. He says everybody always had a birthday cake and nobody every got many birthday gifts so that wasn’t different. Over the years we’ve been together his birthday has become an important part of the Christmas celebratory season. We have cake, gifts, dinner, a gathering. Now that the children are grown, some with children of their own and most of us are in the same city we gather for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Jim’s Birthday, New Years Eve and New Years day. By January we are ready for a break!
When I was elementary school age our neighborhood was majority Jewish. We never celebrated the Jewish holidays but we learned about them. I remember singing the dreidel song in school and learning about the menorah. I didn’t realize Kwanzaa was in the “another tradition” category until today, so here is my late offering. Once again I bring you a reprint from Ruff Draft 1991. We didn’t celebrate it when I was growing up since it didn’t begin until the late 1960’s. Our children grew up celebrating either at home or in community celebrations.
By Ayanna Williams
Kwanzaa is a Black holiday started in the U.S.A. in the 1960s.
This year on the last day of Kwanzaa, which was New Years Day, we had a big to-do and invited Henry over. We dressed up. Tulani and I in sarongs. That is material draped around your body and hung over your shoulder. James and Cabral wore baggy pants and African print shirts. Jilo and Ife, who were home on winter break, wore long skirts. All the girls but Jilo, wore geles (head wraps). Jilo didn’t want to cover her dreadlocks.
When Henry got there we were downstairs in our regular clothes so we ran upstairs and after much losing of skirts and falling off of wraps, we finally went down. As we went Tulani played the drum, James used the shakare, Cabral strummed the ukelele and I had to use two blocks. We chanted “Kwanzaa, First Fruits!” as we came. We giggled a little as we went through the kitchen. Black eye peas, sweet potatoes and rice were simmering on the stove for us to eat directly after the ritual. When we got to the living room, all the lights were off except one. By that light we, in turn, read the seven principles in Swahili and their meanings in English. The introduction was read by Daddy. Nia/Purpose was read by Henry. Umoja/Unity was read by Tulani. Kujichagulia/Self determination was read by Ayanna, Ujima/Collective Work and Responsibility by James. Ujamaa/Cooperative economics by Ife, Kuumba/Creativity by Mommy for Cabral and Imani/Faith by Jilo.
Then we read the meanings explained in plain English that Jilo had written. After we read the principles and lit all seven candles, Jilo read a story she had written about Kwanzaa with all of the principles included. We then ushered everybody into the dining room while chanting the principles and their meanings. Well, that was the plan, but nobody but us kids knew so the adults just sat there and watched us. So we finally just got up and told them to come to the table.
After dinner Henry told tales about when he was a kid and about his uncles and cousins. Some how the conversation went from reminiscing to the state of the world today. He and Jilo had quite a discussion that lasted for hours. At the end Henry went home and we all went to bed.
My family did not send out Christmas cards when I was growing up. Probably because all the relatives lived in Detroit and we saw them during the holidays. We usually had a good number of cards to display across the mantle though because my mother was a teacher and she brought home all the cards her students gave her. I did make some cards in elementary school that I found in my mother’s things. My grandparents aka Nanny and Poppy received cards from friends they kept in touch with from the days they lived in Montgomery. Often these were photograph cards. Because they kept the past years cards in a brass Chinese bowl on a table in the front room, under the table actually, I watched some stranger kids grow up from year to year. When I grew up and moved out of Detroit I started sending and receiving cards. When we didn’t have a mantle we displayed them across the top of the bookcase that ran across one side of the living room. The years two of my daughters had paper routes we had lots of cards. For some reason I’ve saved these along with the family and friend cards. Every year when I go through them I think I should glean these but I don’t.
Cards in brass bowlRuff Draft Nov/Dec 1994
For five or six years when we were homeschooling our family put out a monthly newsletter. It gave the kids a chance to use their writing skills and gave the family and friends a chance to see that they weren’t growing up illiterate. We would add a Christmas message on the back page. That is about as close to a Christmas letter as I got.
The most meaningful card I’ve saved over the years is the last one my mother-in-law, Theola Davenport Williams, sent me the Christmas before she died. It included a letter on the inside. I re-read it every holiday season. I wish we had traveled to St. Louis that season to visit but we didn’t.
When I was growing up we had the ornaments that my mother bought over the years. I don’t remember making decorations in school. Maybe because the elementary school I attended was mostly Jewish or maybe in the 1950’s we didn’t make decorations. I don’t know. We didn’t string popcorn or cranberries. Wait! I think i remember a construction paper chain my sister and/or I made. It was short in length and in use.
In 2008 my sister and I decided to get our children and grandchildren together and decorate ornaments for the Christmas tree. I ordered clear plastic bulbs and craft paint and brushes. My sister offered her house. On the appointed day we gathered for pizza, eggnog and decorating. The table in the dining room was covered, another table was set up, t-shirts and aprons went on over clothes and the fun began. Everybody, including interested adults, painted several ornaments. They popped open and the insides were painted then the ornament was popped back together. You can see in the photo that they were bright, clear, colorful. Unfortunately what you don’t see is that the paint never dried. It puddled on the bottom of the ornament and if there were multiple colors, which there often were, the puddle turned a muddy brownish/gray. We hung them on the trees anyway and packed them away hoping they’d look better the next year. They didn’t, although I think they were dry. I wonder what the grandchildren remember about it. I’ll have to check this year.
My husband’s family is putting together an online family tree. Last week one of his sisters called to ask why their father’s half sister Catherine Williams wasn’t on it. I’ve been looking for Aunt Catherine for decades, starting when I asked my father-in-law what her mother’s name was. He told me he didn’t know because when her mother died and his father married his second wife, Catherine was raised by her grandmother and didn’t grow up with them.
I took this question as a challenge (of course) and started looking again. I have had good luck with Family Search Pilot and marriage records so I started by looking there for Arthur Williams in Dallas County, Arkansas. I knew that he was living in Dallas County in the 1900 and the 1910 from the censuses and that he was born about 1886. I found an Arthur Williams (b. 1887) and Nancy Burrough (b. 1890) were married in Dallas county 21 May 1908. I also found Arthur Williams married his second wife, Annie Willie Butler in Dallas County 11 Jan 1910.
Next I went to Ancestry.com and searched for Nancy Burrough in the 1900 census. She was living in Calhoun County, right below Dallas County, with James and Maggie Burrough, (her parents) and several siblings. She was 8 years old. I searched for Maggie Burrough and found her a widow in 1910. Living with her in Calhoun County were 5 children and one grandchild – 1 year old Carrie C. Williams. This seemed to be Catherine. I searched for Maggie in the 1920 census but didn’t find her or anyone else in the household. I had done wild card searches for Catherine before – Cathe*- because I thought she might spell it with an “i” or a “y”. Nothing. I tried a “K”. Still nothing. I tried the wild card with Cath* and there she was! In Calhoun County Cathrine Williams, now 11 years old, was living with her grandmother Maggie Burrow and her daughter Agnes M. Harrison her two children James E. Harrison and Oma Harrison, Maggie’s son Lindsy Burrow and two other grandchildren Roger L Walsh and Christine Vaughn.
We contacted Jim’s sisters with this information and received more information. Catherine had married a Mr. Hill. She died in Seattle, WA. I looked for her in both the Social Security Death Index and the Washington State Death index. I found that Catheryn Hill, last residence Seattle, born 27 Dec 1908 had died Jun 1979. Her social security card had been issued before 1951 in Missouri. The Washington Death Index told me Catherine N. Hill died 15 Jun 1979 in Seattle. She was 70 and born about 1909.
I passed this information along and suggested sending for death certificates and social security application and marriage license to document this information and make sure this was the right person. One of my sister-in-laws emailed back that she had an obituary for Catherine. I asked her to send me a copy, which she promptly did. Here is what it said.
“Catheryn Nancy Hill, born December 1907 in Thorton, Calhoun County, Arkansas, Departed this life Friday, June 15, 1979 in the Swedish Medical Center, Seattle, Washington.
She was reared by her grandmother, Mrs. Maggie Burrough, and Mr. and Mrs. Jesse McCoy of Thornton, Arkansas. At age 12 she united with the Mt. Zion Baptist Church. Served in choirs, Sunday School and other departments of the church. Reaching adulthood she moved to Little Rock, Arkansas and joined the Mt. Zion Baptist Church there under the Pastorate of the Rev. Fred T. Guy, Sr., later moving to St. Louis, Missouri.
In February the year of 1944, Mrs. Hill moved to Seattle, Washington and united with Mt. Zion Baptist Church by Letter from Union Baptist Church of St. Louis, Mo.
Mrs. Hill, a former Boeing employee was active in Civic, Health, Red Cross, Caring & Coping with young people, church and hospital work most of her life and found doing domestic and catering services an art in Arkansas cities of Hot Springs and Little Rock, St. Louis, Mo. and Seattle, Washington. “HELPING OTHERS” was her motto and source of survival.
Her memories will be cherished by Dad Jesse McCoy, Pine Bluff, Arkansas; brothers: Grover C. McCoy, Seattle, James E. Harrison and Chester A. Williams, St. Louis, Mo., Ambrose T. Williams, Greenville, Mississippi, James T. Williams, Chicago Illinois, Sterling B. Williams, Daphne, Alabama; Sisters: Mrs. Wylverlyn M. Williams, Chicago, Illinois, Mrs. Vinnie Jean Mitchell, Arkadelphia, Arkansas, Mrs. Verta Mae Wright, Wichita, Kansas; Cousins: Mrs. Ruth Johnson Jacobs, Thorton, Arkansas, Mrs. Corrine Fletcher and Mrs Lizzie Hurston, Detroit Michigan, Mr. Lenzie and Mr. James Burroughs, Los Angeles, California; a deceased brother; Rev. Samuel W. Williams M.A., D.D., PhD, was Dean of Religion at Morehouse College, Atlanta, Georgia.”
I was reading a post over at Georgia Black Crackers about fried chicken and as I was getting into my third paragraph in the comment section I decided to just write about my chicken memories here.
Fried chicken used to be the main part of my favorite meal along with mashed potatoes and green beans. I grew up in Detroit, without chickens in the yard, but I remember going to the poultry market several times with my maternal grandmother, Nanny. Crates full of live chickens were piled around the walls. My grandmother would pick her chicken and they would kill it and dress it there. When she cooked chicken she always smothered it in gravy. Perhaps she bought the cheaper old birds that were too tough for frying. It was delicious.
Every Saturday my mother drove us all across town to my grandparent’s house. She and her sister would be in the front and the four, eventually five, of us cousins would be in the back. No seat belts in those days. We spent many happy hours playing in the backyard where our yard toys were kept in the old chicken house. Of course it was free of all signs of chickens. They were gone by the time we were there but I remember the story of the mean rooster that attacked my little uncle Howard and ended up as chicken dinner. And of chickens running around the yard with no heads after they’d been chopped off.
Nanny was a great cook. She didn’t know how to cook when she married at age 29, my grandfather taught her. Where he learned to cook so well I am not sure. Working in the dining car on the railroad? I’ll have to ask my cousin and see if she knows. He always cooked the turkey on Thanksgiving and Christmas.
When my sister and I were very small someone gave us three chicks for Easter. We lived in a combination parsonage/community house. It was huge. We kept the chicks in a box in the basement and thinking back I don’t remember a heat light which may be the reason that, one by one, the chicks died. I remember my mother throwing their bodies into the basement incinerator.
My Uncle Henry told a story about chickens from the time that he and his brother Hugh were conscientious objectors during the 2nd world war had a farm near Avoka, Michigan where they raised chickens and milked cows. One day it rained and they hadn’t put the chickens up. He said they piled up in the yard with their mouths open, just sat there and drowned from the rain running down their throats.
When I was grown living with my husband and children in rural Simpson County, Mississippi keeping goats and chickens, I learned first hand about killing, plucking and cutting up chickens. From my yard to the table. I wasn’t really that good at the killing part. In fact, I only remember one time that I actually killed a chicken. My husband was a printer working in nearby Jackson, MS. It was time to fix dinner and there was not much food in the house. He had the car so no chance for a trip to the store in town. I decided to kill a chicken. With the help of my two oldest daughters, who must have been about 9 and 12 at the time, we did it. Each of them held a clothesline tied to either the chicken’s head or feet and I chopped off the head. I would have gotten better I’m sure, but luckily never had to do it again.
One last memory. It’s really my husband’s memory, but I’ve heard it so often I can see it as if it were mine. Once during the annual family trip back to Dermott, Arkansas a relative gave them a chicken to take back home. They were living in Carr Square Village in St. Louis, MO at the time. They kept the chicken in the newspaper wagon long enough for it to become big enough to eat. His name was Speckle because he was black and white. One day they came home and they had a real treat, chicken sandwiches. Nobody asked why chicken in the middle of the week, they were too busy eating it. Later they found it was poor Speckle.