My cousins lived upstairs in a 4-family flat on the corner of McDougall and Hunt Street on the East Side of Detroit. Their mother, Mary V. Graham Elkins, was my mother’s sister. She worked as a secretary at the County Building.
Their father, Frank “Bud” Elkins, graduated with honors from Cass Technical high school in the late 1930s. As an electrician, he tried to join the Electricians Union but as a black man was barred. He set up his own shop as an independent Electrician. He drove a truck with “Elkins Electric Company” on the side. I remember riding in it a few times. There were not seats for all and we sat on the floor.
My cousin Barbara Lynn Elkins was born in Detroit, Michigan on January 28, 1948. She was the second child of Frank Lawton Elkins and Mary Virginia Graham Elkins. Her first home was on MacDougal St. on Detroit’s East side. Later they moved to Calvert, a few blocks from where we lived. She attended Roosevelt Elementary, Durfee Junior High and Central High School. She had two sons, Frank and Ahmad. She lived in the East Village in NYC for several years during 1969 – 1970 before returning to Detroit. She worked for many years at General Motors before they moved the plant to Texas. Through the years she took care of over 100 children as a foster mother. She died October 14 after a long illness. Below is Barbara’s Person of the Month article from 1991.
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.
On the back of the photograph my grandmother, Fannie (aka Nanny), wrote “Barbara Lynne 3, Pearl Michelle 2, Kristin Graham 4. May 30 – 1951. This was snapped by DeeDee.”
This photo was taken in my grandparents backyard. We spent most Saturdays back then at Nanny’s and Poppy’s playing with our cousins. On the left end of the wagon is my cousin Barbara holding a cowboy boot and a toy gun. In the middle is my sister Pearl who is writing madly. I am on the right end holding a doll and looking worried. My sister grew up to be a writer. I grew up to have 6 children. If only cousin Barbara had grown up to ride bucking broncos or live on a ranch or rob banks, the mirroring of the future would have been complete. This photograph was taken by Barbara’s older sister, Dee Dee who was 7 years old at the time.
For more old photos, with or without dolls, click on the picture below.