On the left my Uncle Henry is holding a ten inch blue gill that he and my mother caught in September of 1977 in a boat off of my Uncle Louis’ dock on Lake Idlewild. They would fillet them and freeze them in empty milk cartons.
On the right is a boat in front of Louis’ cottage on Idlewild Lake. I can’t quite make it out, but could be them catching the above string of fish.
In June, 1979 my mother sent to the Emergency Land Fund’s newspaper “Forty Acres and A Mule” her recipe for cooking blue gills. I wish I had a plate of those blue gills right now.
I just remembered this letter with a drawing of a fish that my mother wrote to Henry from Idlewild in 1956.
“In between showers, the children & I go outside to see what’s up. The lake is full of minnows & baby bass & even some half-size bass who stay around our beach. But the rowboat isn’t even down the hill – and the other boats are too fast – everything is gone before you even get to it – including the lake.
I’ve spent two evenings with Louis & his guests – and they took me out to “night club” – but they’ve given me up, I think, as a confirmed “prude” – but a pleasant innocuous one. I’ve been reading the book about Bronson alcott (no, I won’t tell you who he is) and also…”
I was going to write about the time when we hand printed fish one spring in Idlewild. Unfortunately, we don’t seem to have saved any of our prints. I did not know printing fish was a Japanese art form called Gyotaku. Ours were not as lovely as those at the link, but they were interesting.
Note: My sister tells me she has some of those prints. Whenever she finds them, I will add them to this post.
My sister Pearl as the anthropoid, about 1961 at Old Plank.
My family had a tradition of chasing the children around while acting like a monster. My Uncle Louis was the master and didn’t need any sort of mask or costume to send us screaming into the lake at Idlewild. He just twisted up his face and hands and came towards us and that was it.
My uncle Henry got the mask above from somewhere and incorporated that into the scary chases. You had to holler out “Anthropoid, anthropoid, don’t kill me yet!” when he got too close, in order to escape. Aside from putting on the mask for photo ops, I remember once time we put it on, wrapped in a blanket and sat on the lawn toward the road where we hoped to scare drivers passing the house. I don’t remember any wrecks so I guess no harm was done.
By the time my children came along, my cousin Warren used to take them on a bear hunt. I remember one time that he worked it out with another cousin to be out in the woods where he drove and stopped and told the kids, who as I remember were in the back of a pickup with a camper, that they were waiting there to see the bear. The other cousin starting growling and knocking on the truck and finally my cousin drove off, it was dark or almost dark. He said they had a close escape. Later, when we were all inside, the other cousin came around tapping on the windows. The bear!
Nobody was terrified of the bears or monsters, well maybe my cousin Barbara who did run into the lake, but mostly it was the enjoyable kind of being scared while knowing you are safe.
Because my family seemed to socialized mainly with each other and a few long time family friends, I saw a lot of my aunts and uncles. When I was growing up, we spent every Saturday with my mother’s sister, Mary V. and her daughters at our maternal grandparents. We all rode over and back together. We also lived down the street and went to the same school so we saw her often.
My father’s family was very close and worked on political and freedom causes together through the years. We all went up to Idlewild together. Uncle Louis was our family doctor. My first jobs were working with Henry and Hugh at Cleage Printers. I babysat one summer for Anna and Winslow. I worked at North Detroit General Hospital in the pharmacy with Winslow. I worked with Gladys and Barbara at the Black Star sewing factory. My mother married my Uncle Henry years after my parents divorced so he was like a second father to me. I raked their memories for stories about the past for decades.
I had 4 aunts and 5 uncles, by blood. Two of my uncles died when they were children so I never knew them. All of my aunts married so there were 4 uncles by marriage. Three, Ernest, Frank and Edward, were eventually divorced from my aunts. I didn’t see them very much after that. Ernest lived in NYC and only appeared now and then so I didn’t know him very well beyond the fact he was very good looking and polite. Uncle Frank, who we called ‘Buddy’, was a an electrician. I remember him taking us to Eastern Market and boiling up a lot of shrimp,which we ate on soda crackers. And a story he told about a whirling dervish seen in the distance that turned into a dove. Edward, who we called Eddie was a doctor and I remember little about him except he was quiet and when I had a bad case of teenage acne, offered to treat it for me. Uncle Winslow was there to the end. I saw him often and I felt very connected to him. He had a wicked sense of humor and liked to talk about the past when I was in my family history mode. None of my uncles were married during my lifetime so I had no aunts by marriage.
We didn’t call our aunts and uncles “aunt” and “uncle”. We called them by their first names only. I did know two of my great aunts, my maternal grandmother’s sisters, Daisy and Alice. I knew one of my 2 X great aunts, Aunt Abbie. She lived with my grandparents until she died in 1966. Aunt Abbie was Catholic and I still have a Crucifix that she gave me.
I remember calling Daisy “Aunt Daisy”, but Alice was just “Alice”. Aunt Daisy had a distinctive voice and she laughed a lot. I remember going to dinner at their house once, and going by on holidays.
There were a host of great aunts and uncles that I never met but I knew from stories about them so that I felt like I knew them. Aunt Minnie and Uncle Hugh were my paternal grandmother’s siblings. I must have met several of my paternal grandfather’s siblings but I was small and don’t remember them, Uncle Jake, Uncle Henry, Aunt Josie and their spouses. And on the maternal side I heard so much about my great grandmother Jennie’s siblings that I felt I knew them too. When I started researching, these were not strangers – Aunt Willie, Aunt Mary, Aunt Beulah, Aunt Anna.
We didn’t call any of my parent’s friends ‘aunt’ or ‘uncle’. Not surprising since we didn’t call our own aunts and uncles, ‘aunt’ and ‘uncle’.
When I saw the prompt, I immediately thought of some photos of a building in Detroit that my uncle Henry Cleage took. I found them in the first place I looked (amazingly). They aren’t labeled or dated but looking at a few old Detroit buildings I found they are of the old County Building. I would date them around 1950 from the people and cars. These are only a few of the many. Court was held in the building and Henry was a lawyer. Perhaps he had some cases there.
“The cornerstone was laid Oct. 20, 1897, in a ceremony that the Detroit Free Press called at the time “simple but impressive.” Under a headline in capital letters proclaiming, “It is laid!”, the Free Press wrote that it had rained all morning the day of the ceremony, but just at 2 p.m., as officials were gathering at Old City Hall, the sun broke and the clouds parted. A band led the procession down Cadillac Square to a platform decked out in American flags in front of the county building, where Judge Edgar O. Durfee had the honor of laying the cornerstone. Judge Robert E. Frazer gave what the Free Press called a “stirring address,” and Mayor William C. Maybury also participated.” Go to Old Wayne County Building – Historic Detroit to read a detailed history of the Old County Building.
“One of the building’s most prominent features is the pair of large sculptures flanking its center tower and portico. The copper sculptures are known as quadrigae, a Roman chariot drawn by four horses. The pieces were done by New York sculptor J. Massey Rhind, who intended the quadrigae to symbolize progress. They feature a woman standing in a chariot led by four horses with two smaller figures on either side.” From Old Wayne County Building – Historic Detroit
My mother’s sister, Mary V. Elkins, got a job at the County Building in 1940.
“June 10, 1940 — Mary Virginia has just gotten (through Jim and May) a good job at the County Bldg — God is so good to us. M.V. won high honor in her business Institute for typing and short hand.” Fannie Mae Turner Graham’s little diary.
Mary V. attended business school after she graduated from Eastern High School, then worked for awhile at her cousin’s Newspaper office until he helped her get a job in the old county building. She held the job for many years and received a proclamation from the City of Detroit for her service to the city during a Family Reunion when she was in her 80s.
Old Wayne County Building could soon be allowed to seek buyers. “A Wayne County Commission committee approved a nonbinding agreement today that would settle a nearly 3-year-old lawsuit against the owners of the Old Wayne County Building and allow the owners to seek potential buyers.” From an April, 2013 article in the Detroit Free Press.
I started taking piano lessons when I was about seven years old. We lived on Chicago Blvd. in the parsonage. Mrs. Fowler was our teacher. I remember her as a stern older woman who, according to my cousin, sometimes smashed her fingers on the keys when she kept making mistakes. I think of the room with the piano as the “Morning Room”. Maybe that’s what my mother called it. There was wall paper with fruit on it. My music book was “Teaching Little Fingers to Play” and I learned 3 note pieces with words like “Here we go, up a row, to a birthday party.” When played in a different order it became the piece “Dolly dear, Sandman’s here. Soon you will be sleeping.” I must have practiced between lessons because I remember being used as a good example to my cousin Barbara one time. The piano must have belonged to the church because when we moved, it stayed there.
Several years later we were living in the upper flat on Calvert. I told my mother I wanted to take piano lessons again. She bought the used upright piano in the photo above. We all signed it on the inside of the flap you rest the music on and raise to get at the insides. Our new teacher was Mr. Manderville, the church choir director at that time. He was my parents age and went in more for mean, sarcastic remarks as opposed to banging your fingers on the keyboard. I wanted to play “Comin’ Through The Rye” but he wouldn’t assign it and, for unknown reasons, I didn’t just learn it on my own time.
The only piece I remember by name was “The Wild Horseman”. I remember it as a complex piece that I played exceptionally well. Sort of like this.
Well, maybe I wasn’t quite that good, but in my memory, I am every bit as good. Eventually I told my mother I didn’t want to take piano lessons any more. She was not happy with that and mentioned buying the piano at my request so I could take lessons. She did let me stop. My mother played the piano much better than I ever did. She played it often after that. Pieces of classical music she played on the record player and those she played on the piano have become confused in my mind now. I will have to ask my sister what she remembers.
Another part of the prompt is pictures within the picture. You will notice three pictures on the wall and one of my sister and me on the piano, in my photo above.
Here are some memories from a newsletter my family put out from 1990 to about 1994. Daughter Ayanna did all the drawings. I added one new memory that my sister-in-law Jocelyn sent me in December, 2013.
I remember several cookouts in my grandmother Cleage’s backyard. There was the one where the tables were set up right in front of the gate that looked out on the street. There was some sort of minor argument about this. Afterwards, my sister and I called any sort of family argument a “cookout.” On that occasion Grace Lee Boggs dropped by, not for the cookout, but for some political reason, dating it in the 1960s.
The cookout pictured below took place during the summer of 1958. My uncle Louis bought a big blue plastic swimming pool that took up most of the cement part of the yard. I don’t remember it being there any other summer. Once, my sister Pearl was drowning when my uncle Henry noticed her on the bottom of the pool, reached down and pulled her out. I don’t know why she didn’t stand up. She was 9 and I turned 12 that August. The bushes on the fence were full of tiny, pink roses during the season. Those are still my favorite roses.
Pearl remembers: I am still mystified as to why I didn’t just put my feet down. I don’t remember being at the bottom of the pool. I remember going down and splashing my way back up to the top and not being able to stay with my head above water. and then Henry came over and grabbed me and pulled me up and out. who knows what was going on? and we had those little plastic life preservers, too. how deep was the damn thing anyway?