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?
Back in November of 2011 I wrote Moving – Springfield to Detroit 1951 for Sepia Saturday 102. I mentioned that I remembered the little girls in the photograph, but I couldn’t remember their names. Well, I found them!
During February, I was working on a post about turtles I have owned, when I came across the photograph below.
I recognized them as the Funns and realized that the other man’s name that I remembered from Springfield, “Lindsey”,must be the name of the father of the girls in the photographs. How could I find the last name? I decided to Google “Lindsey St. John’s Congregational Church, Springfield, MA”. The first item that came up gave me his last name, Johnson. I Googled “Lindsey Johnson, Springfield, MA” and came up with several articles. This was them! Sherrie was the oldest daughter, the one who poured milk in my dinner on that day so long ago. Below are some of the articles I found and some photographs of the Johnsons and also an article about Mr. Funn. Goggle and newspapers – it’s hard to beat them sometimes.
At the end of each summer my sister, cousins, mother, aunt and grandfather, Poppy, took a trip to the Detroit Zoo.
Sometimes the four older cousins spent the night before at our grandparents. We slept on a foldout cot in Poppy’s room. We went to bed first and I was always asleep by the time Poppy came to bed. That worked fine, unless I woke up in the middle of the night. He had the loudest snore and it was impossible to get back to sleep until he turned over and stopped snoring.
My grandmother, Nanny, never went with us. As I write this, I realize there are so many things I don’t remember. I suppose our mothers drove across town, with Marilyn, to meet us in the morning. Did we take two cars – my grandfather’s and my mother’s? I don’t think so. I think we all smashed into one car, three adults in the front and 5 children in the back, with Marilyn sitting on someone’s lap. Nanny probably made us a picnic lunch to take. I can’t imagine buying hot dogs and french fries with Poppy along.
Looking at the photographs I can see that Dee Dee was way ahead of the rest of us in cool. Even in 1956, when she and I both wore our plaid slacks, her’s fit and look good. Mine are baggy. Luckily, it doesn’t seem to bother me. That year Marilyn is so little and unaffected.
By 1959 Dee Dee is 16. I’m amazed she still accompanied us to the zoo. It must have been a very important part of our year. I was 13 and still not at all cool. That expression on my face is one I recognize from other photos through the years, unfortunately. I would say the sun is in my eyes but it doesn’t seem to be bothering anybody else. And why am I wearing that skimpy outfit? The hats that Connie and my mother are wearing were some my mother bought for Pearl and me. White sailor hats were the rage for awhile. Unfortunately, those were the cheap version and did not look like the popular ones. I don’t think we ever wore them. If I had, maybe I wouldn’t have been squinting at the camera. Little Marilyn looks a lot more blasé in 1959. I believe she is wearing one of the little sundresses my mother made for Pearl or me when we were that age. It was yellow with lace on top.
This is the 11th post in the February Photo Collage Festival, and the first post of six that will answer the question someone asked when I posted this photograph (follow the link to see it) – What happened to these kids? I will be starting with my sister, Pearl Cleage. She became a writer. Pearl just completed another book which will be out not too far in the future. Aside from being a Genius and an acclaimed writer she also raised one fabulous daughter and now enjoys four wonderful grandchildren. She is also married to the love of her life, fellow writer Zeke Burnett. One of her favorite activities is walking on mornings when it’s not raining, with me. You can listen to an interview with Pearl from several years ago at the bottom of this page.
My cousin Warren always had a party on his December 30th birthday. All of the Cleage cousins gathered at his house where his mother, my aunt Gladys, made a punch of Vernor’s ginger ale with orange sherbert floating on top. There was ice cream, chips, party favors and of course, cake. His cake, shown below, looks like a product of Detroit Awrey’s Bakery. My cousin Jan corrected me and said it was probably a Sanders cake. Sanders also made cakes and the best chocolate miniatures ever. But I digress.
Because I count 11 candles on the cake, I’m going to say it was his 10th birthday which would make it 1958. The 11th candle would be 1 to grow on. There is no sign of his youngest brother who wasn’t born until July of 1959.
Unlike the Sepia Saturday prompt, there is no bus and no Santa in my photo but the people are sitting facing each other and it was taken during the 1950s.
We were at my uncle Louis’ cottage in Idlewild. I remember my grandmother reading to us from the book “Told Under the Red Umbrella” that summer. The electricity went off during a storm once and she read to us by the kerosene lamps until the lights came back on.
My cousin Dee Dee is the seven year old who took the photograph for Three in a Wagon. This photo was taken the same day in my grandparents backyard. Barbara still has her pistol and Pearl is still holding her pad and pencil plus Barbara’s boot which is hanging open by her right side. I seem to have traded the doll for a tin of powder?