This is my tenth A to Z Challenge. My first was in 2013, but I missed 2021. This April I am going through the alphabet using snippets about my family through the generations.
I managed to scan a few pages of the old album before they crumpled. My father wrote on brief descriptions. In the fall of 1948 I was two. My sister Pearl would be born in December of that year. One of my favorite activities was playing in the dirt. I remember watching the neighbor mother fuss at her little daughter, who was about my size, for playing in the dirt. Even at that time I thought that was sad. There were two sets of stairs, one on each side of the porch, so people did not have to walk through my kitchen when they came out of the back door.
I used to like making small places outside. The first one I remember was under the back porch when we lived in a two family flat on Calvert in Detroit. The porch above wasn’t high enough up for me to stand up, but it wasn’t so low I had to crawl in. I found bricks around and built a two or three brick high wall around two sides. I don’t remember doing much out there after I got it together. I was about nine years old at that time. My sister remembers playing marbles there. I did make a nice, smooth dirt floor.
In Poppy’s and Nanny’s yard we made tents out of quilts. We would use them for the duration of whatever game we were playing. My Quilt Tent – 1958
Later when we lived on Oregon, I built a snow house against the garage one winter. Again, I don’t remember hanging around in it. After all it was winter in the 1950s when winter was freezing and snowy for months. I also cleaned up the garage and fixed it up as a place I could go. But it was a garage and I remember the smell wasn’t that pleasant. Rats around the garbage cans? I never saw any, but I gave that one up.
At Old Plank, I made a stick frame and wove large leaves into it. As you can see I even built a campfire circle of stones and had a fire going at least once.
One morning I came out and found a snake curled comfortably inside. It was cool and the snake was sluggish. Henry did what he always did when coming upon a snake, he killed it. I don’t remember the particulars, did he beat it to death or did he shoot it? What sort of snake was it? Above he is holding it up for the photographer, probably my mother. I do remember an incident decades later in Idlewild when Henry did kill a snake at my Aunt Barbara’s with a blow as I tried to persuade him it was a harmless snake that ate mice. He paid me no mind.
My mother was born in Detroit in 1923 to Mershell and Fannie (Turner) Graham. This year marks 100 years since her birth. Below are 101 photos of her. Beneath the photo are some of the posts I have done about her life.
“This is not the picture of a family reunion, although all in the group, with the exception of one intimate friend, are relatives who stood in the receiving line or assisted otherwise at the “At Home” given Monday evening, December 26 from 6 to 9 o’clock, at the McCall’s residence on Parker avenue, the affair was in honor of Dr. and Mrs. Joseph H. Howard, of Chicago, brother and sister of Mr. and Mrs. J. E. McCall and Mrs Robert F. Johnson, a sister, greeted guests at the door, while Miss Mary Virginia Graham, a cousin, acted as registrar. Mrs. Moses L. Walker, a sister, introduced the guests to the host and hostess, who in turn presented them to others in the receiving line – Dr. and Mrs. Howard, the honorees; Miss Victoria McCall, daughter; Miss Louise McCall, niece, of Chicago; and Miss Mignon Walker, also a niece. Mrs. William Hawthorn, a friend of the family, presided at the punch bowl, assisted by Miss Doris Graham, a cousin of the McCalls; and Miss Margaret McCall, a daughter. At the close of the reception, the principals and assistants stood together and were snapped by the camera. They are left to right: Doris Graham, Mignon Walker, Louise McCall, Victoria McCall, Dr. and Mrs J. E. McCall, Mrs. M. I. Walker, ( not named was Margaret McCall) Mrs R. F. Johnson, Mary Virginia Graham and Mrs. William Blackburn.”
The Detroit Tribune, Detroit, Michigan 31 Dec 1938, Sat • Page 5
The Detroit Tribune was published by James E. McCall and his wife, Margaret Walker McCall. He was also a poet and had lost his sight while attending college after having typhoid fever.
The links below take you to more information about various people in the photograph.
Annie Lee Pope and Jeanette McCall were first cousins born in Montgomery, Alabama. They were daughters of the oldest and youngest daughters of Eliza, for whom this blog is named.
Annie Lee Pope and her twin brother Charles were born January 31, 1902 in Montgomery, Alabama. She was one of the set of twins born to Robert and Beulah (Allen) Pope. Their younger, Robert Pope was born seven years later. Her father Robert Pope completed four years of college and worked as a clerk and a porter through the years at a wholesale drug business. Her mother Beulah was a seamstress.
Annie Lee completed two years at Rust College in Holly Springs, Mississippi In 1921 at 19 she married Ludie Thaniel Gilmer, in Chicago. Perhaps she was visiting Jeanette. Soon afterwards he became a physician. They moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin where their son, Charles E. Gilmer born in 1922. Annie Lee did not work outside of the home.
Jeanette was born on February 18, 1897 in Montgomery, Alabama. She was the youngest of the six children of Edward and Mary (Allen) McCall. Her oldest brother, James McCall was the blind poet in She was owned before the war by…. Her father, Edward McCall, was the cook and turn-key at the city jail. Her mother, Mary Allen McCall, was a seamstress. Jeanette attended Alabama State Normal school, a primary through high school for African Americans in Montgomery that all of her siblings and cousins attended.
Jeanette also attended Rust College in Holly Springs, Mississippi and met her husband, Robert Anderson McEwen there. Robert and Jeanette were married on 8 April 1918, in Iowa while he was in the service. In the 1920 census they were living in Chicago as roomers. On January 2, 1920 she gave birth to her first son, Robert Jr. Robert Sr. worked at the post office. By the time their second son, Raymond, was born on December 16, 1923, Robert was a dental student. Jeanette did not work outside of the home.
By 1929 Robert was a dentist. Jeanette died December 22, 1931 of influenza, exacerbated by consumption. You may see another photograph of Jeanette here. Robert remarried before 1938 to Ethel Martha Goins. She was his nurse during his hospitalization at the end of his life. He died of a heart attack on June 29, 1938.
This photograph was taken in Montgomery, Alabama, during my grandparent’s engagement in 1919. I animated it using My Heritage, Deep Nostalgia.
My maternal grandmother, Fannie Mae Turner Graham, was born 133 years ago today. She was born in 1888 in Lowndes County Alabama, the oldest child of Howard and Jennie (Allen) Turner. Here is something my mother wrote about her in about 1980.
Somebody’s Daughter My Mother
By Doris Graham Cleage
Yes, I’ll tell you, I am somebody’s daughter. My mother was really SOMEBODY.
She was the first child of my (who else?) grandmother who was one of seven children born to a woman freed from slavery at seventeen and a free man. The woman had been trained as a seamstress in the “Big House” and she taught every one of her five daughters to sew. And so my Grandmother earned her living as a seamstress for white folks in Montgomery, Alabama.
It was fortunate that she had an independent spirit as well as a skill because she lost her husband when my mother was four years old and a younger sister was two. While grandmother was out sewing, the two children stayed with their grandparents who were very strict.
One of my mother’s earliest memories was of a spanking with the flat of a saw by her grandfather because she made footprints across the dirt backyard which he had freshly swept to a marvelous smoothness!
She also remembered him complaining often about their behavior to their mother when she came home. She spanked them too. But mother said she learned early that if they cried loudly, the spanking was shorter and less energetic. Armed with this knowledge, she and her sister made it through childhood and in due time graduated from Normal school (high school).
Mother finished in 1906 and she refused scholarships to college. She chose instead to clerk in her uncle’s general store and eventually managed it. I think she valued this and her marriage above all other experiences in her life. I think they held vastly different meanings for her. I think one represented what she really wanted to do and to be and the other represented what she thought she ought to want to do and be.
I never knew her very well. There never was time to talk to her until she was very ill and I took care of her. This seems very strange to me. My mother never worked after she married. She was always at home taking care of her family. I lived at home until I married. When I lived at home in Detroit I saw her at least once a week. When I lived in other cities, we exchanged letters at least once a week. For the last seven years of her life we shared a two-family flat. But I never knew her as a person until she was dying.
Stereotypes and structures. Forms and duties. Oughts and shoulds. How things are supposed to be. Never how they are. Cages and gags and straightjackets. And we don’t know they’re there.
When I could see and hear my mother as a person, and not as MY MOTHER, I was delighted and dismayed. Delighted that we had so much in common and that I liked her. Dismayed that she was eighty-six and ill and that life had made me wait so long to know her.
She and my father were happily married for fifty-one years. They loved and respected each other. Even in delirium I never heard either one say anything but good and loving things about the other. Mother spoke with peace and sureness about my father. But her face lit up, her back straightened, her voice got louder and she was alive when she talked of managing Great Uncle Victor’s general store. She never tired of telling me about taking inventory, counting money, keeping books, dealing with the help and customers and demanding respect from the drummers.
Drummers were white salesmen trying to get orders for their products and you can imagine how difficult it was for a handsome black woman doing a man’s job to get respect from them. But she knew the power of her ability to give or without orders and she used it without apology. Her whole tone when she straightened her back and raised her head to tell it was not of asking for respect, but demanding it – and loving the demanding!
She managed the store for the twelve most satisfying years of her life. Then she married in 1919. My father never wanted her to work. She suggested a small business several times.
He said, “A MAN supports his family. I am a man. My wife will never work.”
She knew he was supposed to be right so she didn’t press it. She wrote that all a woman needs to be happy is “a baby to rock and a man to please.” And that’s the way she acted. She kept the house, cooked the meals, rocked the babies and pleased the man. But she never believed that woman was meant only for this because she raised her two daughters by word and deed to believe that women should be whatever they wanted to be. I don’t remember her ever saying, “But women can’t be freighter captains, or airplane pilots or doctors or engineers.” she believed I could be anything and I believed it too.
How restricted she must have felt doing most of the jobs that go with keeping house and raising babies.
My paternal grandmother, Pearl Reed Cleage was born 135 years ago in Lebanon, Kentucky, the youngest of Annie Reed’s 8 children. She married Dr. Albert B. Cleage in Indianapolis, IN in 1910 and they had seven amazing children, including my father, who they raised in Detroit, MI.
She was a small woman who looked sweet as pie and had a backbone of steel. She didn’t begin to run down until she broke her hip in her 80s. In 1982, my grandmother Pearl died of congestive heart failure in Idlewild, Michigan.
Today I found a new app on My Heritage, Deep Nostalgia. It takes still photographs of faces and animates them. It was a bit strange, who knows if that is how the actual people moved when they were alive and moving. It was interesting to play around with though.
Below is are animated photos of Eliza (who this blog is named for) and Dock Allen, my 2X great grandparents through the maternal line. Click links below to see animations.
Northern Congregationalists went south to Montgomery, Alabama after the Civil War. First Congregational Christian Church was founded in 1872. They also supported a school nearby. My grandmother, Fannie Turner, attended both the school and the church. She met her husband, Mershell Graham, in the church.
When Mershell Graham, my grandfather, migrated north to Detroit in 1917 many of his friends, who were also members of First Congregational Church, were also leaving segregated Montgomery. In 1919 a group of nine gathered together to form Plymouth Congregational Church. They first met in member’s houses and in borrowed space until they were able to purchase their own building, a former Synagogue, in 1927. They moved in, in May 15, 1927.
Plymouth had been in the building a little over a year when this photo was taken. My grandfather, Mershell C. Graham, is standing behind his daughters, Mary V. and Doris (my mother). Their cousin, Margaret McCall, is standing between them. They are in the front row, towards the left side of center. The minister, Rev. Laviscount, is standing behind Mary V. My grandmother, Fannie, had just given birth to their youngest son, Howard, so she was not able to be there.