It was June of 1971 and my grandmother Pearl Reed Cleage was waiting for the party to begin. Uncle Hugh is in the kitchen getting things ready. Grandmother was 87 and didn’t break her hip for some years yet. I remember so many dinners around that table. There were always cakes with caramel icing for birthdays. This time it looks like there are two cakes – one chocolate and one with caramel icing. Both have candles.
Candy corns in the little silver dish. There were often candy corns in the covered candy dish that always on the front room table coffee table. Candy corns or red and white striped peppermints or sometimes chocolate kisses.
I can think of several June birthdays. My father turned 60 that year. My cousin Anna Pearl turned eleven and her sister Maria turned nine. It must have been an all June collective party. I wish I had been there. My oldest daughter Jilo turned one that June.
On December 29, 1990, Jim Williams and Warren Evans were in for a surprise! Nikki Evans (Warren’s daughter) and I (Tulani Williams, Jim’s Daughter) planned, with the help of our cousin Jann Shreve and her mother Jan, (Warren’s sister) a surprise birthday party. We got permission to have it at Hugh and Louis’ house. They are our great uncles. Then we began to get ready for the party. First we went into town to buy a few last minute things. On our way in we passed Warren on his way home. He saw us and stopped to ask where we were going.
Jan who was driving, answered, “We’re on our way to the store to get some eggs and hamburger buns.”
Warren then said, “Well, could you get me some ‘Stay alive food’. Some hamburger, fries or chips….you know?” He handed Jan some money and we were on our way.
Now we had to go out of our way to get Warrens “stay alive food”. At Ben Franklin’s (a dime store), we got a few presents and Jann looked at the cards and picked out one that said, “I was going to get you an expensive watch for your birthday:…Then you open it and it said “But at your age time doesn’t matter”. She showed it to her mother and they bought it.
After going to the grocery store for Warren, we headed home. Nikki, Jann and I started mixing up the cake. When we put the cake into the oven Jann, Nikki and I sat down with Kriss (Jan’s brother) and James (my brother) and started playing Seaga. We hadn’t got very far when the cake was done and we started the icing. After we iced the cake, we were going to get Jan to drive us over to Louis’. I went over to tell my mother (Kristin) and she suggested that we put the cake into a box and drag it over on the sled since the roads were iced over. So we decided to pull it over on the sled. When we got to Hugh and Louis’ we started decorating the house with balloons, and crepe paper. We even had a sign that said “HAPPY BIRTHDAY JIM AND WARREN!” that James and Kriss had printed up on the computer. When we finished decorating, people started to arrive. We were all brainstorming on how to get Warren to come over. Louis said that we should tell him that we were having a surprise party for Jim and then…the fire siren went off. Jim is a volunteer fireman so that meant he had to go to the fire. But lucky for us it was a false alarm. Jim arrived a few moments later with Kristin, who knew about the party and brought him over. We all hid and had the lights out and yelled “SURPRISE!” when he came in.
Gladys called Warren and told him that the washing machine was clogged up. When Warren finally got there we were in a dimly lit house. He came in talking about “With all these strong backs why… ” but then we yelled “SURPRISE!” and we sat down to have cake.
Tomorrow we’ll be driving over to SC to help celebrate. My aunt was born in Detroit in 1920, the fourth of the seven children of Pearl and Albert Cleage. Barbara attended what is now Wayne State University for several years and then acted as receptionist for her father and brother at Cleage Clinic on the old west side of Detroit. She eloped with Ernest Martin in 1950. They have one son, Ernest Cleage Martin and two grandchildren. In 1970 the Shrine of the Black Madonna opened the first of what would eventually include three Cultural Centers. The stores had collections of African and African American art, books and other cultural objects. Barbara became buyer and manager for all three. She made various buying trips to Africa over the years. She also visited Mexico with her brother Louis who spoke fluent Spanish and often traveled there. Barbara has a wonderful sense of style both in dress and in decorating. Looking forward to seeing her tomorrow celebrating her 90th birthday and hearing some family stories.