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During the years of the 1940’s life around the United States was in the middle of a great depression and the midst of WWII. Making Americans up against many challenges. Wars across the seas, and bombing private sectors of American military post. Fathers, husbands, sons and even grandfathers were stripped from homes to protect and serve this country we call home. Women were forced to work outside of the home, doing jobs such as cleaning others houses and machine shop work. Women also participate minor league sports such as baseball and basketball.
Some were even left as to be a single parent forced to raise babies on their own. During the great depression families were forced to live together, because of the rations that were given once a month for meat and vegetables.
On December 7, 1941 Pearl Harbor, Hawaii was surprisingly attacked by the Japanese army which housed US military personnel. This horrible attack changed America forever. Four days later of that same year Germany and Italy declared war on the U.S. forcing President Franklin D. Roosevelt to make a decision on who to handle first. By the beginning of 1942 the United States was in all-out war with several different countries. Forcing my great grandmother to become a single mother of identical twin girls and move home to her parents.
The Date was September 5, 1942 two stars were born; my grandmother Mary and her twin sister Peggy. So here we are sitting in my grandma living room her in a rocker and me on the sofa drinking coffee and listening to the morning birds outside her humble home. I then asked “grandma tell me how it was in when you were growing up”. With a twinkle in her eyes and a big smile on her face I knew she was very happy to have this conversation. The look on her face made me very intrigue and interested in her story. She started out in saying how bless the world has become and what the future could be like if we all could accept each other as equals. She said “it has always been this way baby, if I told you about my life you will always wonder how we survived”. I said to her “do tell grandma do tell, this may help me better understand discrimination and racism”. This is my maternal grandma who has always said it takes a village to raise a child. And indeed it did for her.
Born in Brookhaven Mississippi to a women and a man high school sweethearts. My grandma had big plans for life. Shortly after graduation, my great grandma Emma was pregnant with twin girls and her fiancé’ was shipped overseas to be in the protection of America. She said “come on let me show you some pictures of my childhood”. We walked into a sitting room with the sun shining through her solar light brighten up the room with such sweet and sensual fragrances. A refurbish chair, table and lamp sitting next to a bay window with the original brown trimming from the 1940’s on it. She said she will never change that because those were the years she came into the world with a wide smile on face. Across from the window was a leather couch with big wide pillows. She motioned me to sit on the couch and she went to continue on about her life. Sitting in her chair staring out the window I believe my grandmother started reminiscing because tears start forming in her eyes. I went over to hug her and she swayed me away saying “No honey these are tears of Joy, you see God has blessed me to see a lot in my lifetime and now I get to share with my grandchildren; now that’s what you call bless”. I then asked her tell me grandma how living in the south during racism? She replied “Baby racism still exist and it wasn’t only in the south it has and will always be all over the world, when I was young and coming up we never really seen a lot of that. You know back then people automatically knew what, when, and where to go. You knew not to go on certain areas in town and also knew the curfew. By 1943, my great grandmother had met another man that had returned from the war and was very interested in her. A year after my sister and I were one years old my mother had married this man and was pregnant with her second child. My stepfather told her lets pack up the kids and move north the factories in the north were in demand of workers, by this time the majority of African Americans in the south had lost their homes, savings, and any opportunity for jobs. Since the women start working outside the house unemployment went up for African Americans”. Taking a sip of her tea and gazing he artful at me she went on. “my mother came home as I was told, my sister and I were only a year old; to let her parents know that she was moving to Michigan and had eloped to marry a man by the name of Lindsay Beard, a young man from down the road who came from a big family with a big farm. My grandparents gave their wishes but told them they were not allowed to take my sister and me. See honey, back then grandparents in the south didn’t believe in step children and by that not be our dad we had to be raised in the south”. “Oh look how time has changed” she replied.
There was a knock at the door and my grandmother asked me to answer it while she went to the restroom. I walked down the long corridor and open the front door and to my surprise it was my grandmother’s third oldest sister/sibling Ruthie. My dear aunt Ruthie is a classy woman who also was raised in Mississippi, she walked in with her high heels stilettos and pink chiffon dress just coming from a gospel concert and had to stop and see her sister. My grandmother is the oldest out 11 children. “Where is Mary” Aunt Ruthie asked. “Here I am how you doing today sis”. “Pretty good aunt Ruthie said, what you ladies up to”. Grandma pointed for me to pull a chair from the kitchen for Aunt Ruth. “Well my granddaughter wants to know how life was in the south, you know Mississippi”. My aunt Ruthie looked at me with astonishment “can I be a part of this to” she replied. “Why of course the more information I cover the better my assignment may look”. We laughed. My grandma got into that gaze out the window listening to the birds on this beautiful sunny fall day. My Aunt Ruthie took off her shoes and got comfortable. “This is about to get interesting” she replied.
My grandmother continued. “By the time I was 2years of age my twin sister and I had come down with the measles, and I had 3 other siblings born well, Ruth was in progress”. They both laughed a heavy laugh. “My twin sister wanted to run around outside and wouldn’t settle down, my grandparents were always saying the only way to get well is to get rest, later that summer my twin sister was laid to rest had suffered from complications of the mumps. This tore my mom apart and she wanted to leave right then from Mississippi. So she packed us kids up and was on her way out the door when my grandfather stopped her and said “You and the three little ones can go but Mary stays here”. My mom knowing what the beliefs were left me to be raised by my grandparents. Grandma replied. I looked over at my grandma and this time the tears I seen falling were tear of pure hurt but relief. By the end of 1945 my grandma was living with her grandma and the siblings that she once played with were in Michigan. I asked my grandma “did you ever want to leave with them?” she replied, “No I wanted them to stay where we knew it was safe, see we never left Brookhaven and the horror stories we were hearing about in the north I thought I would never see my family again.”
By the time my grandma started kindergarten, her grandparents let her make several trips to Michigan especially when her sister Mabel would come to her, they would travel back together. Those two were inseparable, grandparents and parents knew this. By 1946, my great great grandfather had started his own farm with cows, chicken, goats, and vegetables. “I never knew what it was like growing up poor or crime intent” Grandma replied.” Well, that is until one day the local sheriff arrived at our door. Apparently my Uncle Willie had tried stealing some candy from the downtown candy store and beat up the store owner really bad. He cut the man on the arm and beat him almost to a pulp. My grandfather whom was raising me hid my uncle underneath the house where snakes and all kind of animals lived. My uncle stayed there for two days getting all his meals that way. I asked my grandparents why was he living underneath the house and not in the house? I was told that it was grown folk business and stay out. You see baby back when I was growing up our parents only spoke once to us grandma replied”. My aunt Ruthie chimed in saying “I remember hearing that story didn’t papa send out the state of Mississippi over to his family in Louisiana?” “Yes, he sure did and I never heard or seen Uncle Willie from then, some said he changed his name and moved to New York where he died in 1956 grandma said’.
The time is 4:30pm and I look over at my grandma and her sister Aunt Ruthie, “aren’t you guys ready for lunch we been here a couple hours and I’m getting pretty hungry”. Grandma replied “I guess you right I can make a couple sandwiches and some soup will that fill you up?” Aunt Ruthie says “Just give me a glass of wine and some cheese”. Grandma says “Now Ruth you know I don’t drink”. Ruthie laughs and turns to me “one summer we went to visit your granny in Mississippi, well we had been living up north for some years by then. We had learned from the Michigan kids how to make wine out of grapes, mind you, your granny was very oblivion to the northern world. Me and my brother tried to show her how to make wine by stumping on grapes, your granny went and old that we were wasting food and we got the biggest whipping known to man, for that whole summer we did her and Mabel chores. When my parents came to get us you great Uncle June and myself told them we never wanted to come again. They asked our grandparents why we said that, and we got another whipping from them. This is how it was done in the south and 1940’s. Everybody chastised you until you got it right”. My grandma walked back in the room, “soups on should be ready shortly, Ruth I heard you say I told on you and June, but I had to because June was drunk”. We all laughed.
Sitting with my grandma and aunt I was so happy. I couldn’t wait to hear more of her stories of her life. The smiles that were on their face gave me goose bumps al through my body. I asked my grandma tell me a little more about your childhood aunt Ruthie. “Most of my childhood was raised in Michigan. I wasn’t used to living with going outside to use the bathroom or get water from the well. When my parents relocated us, we moved into an old farm house in Lansing, Michigan. Our monthly outings were to the drive-in or downtown movie theatre with the parents. Our schools weren’t segregated as bad as the south but we knew when and where not to go life was a lot simpler.
When grandma was coming up they had wells that they got water from in the ground and an outhouse that was far from the house to keep all animals from the house coming in. She lived in what you call a shot gun house, you can see the back from the front and no indoor plumbing. Big grey tubs were used for bathing sometimes they also cooked in it when the family came for big Sunday dinners.
“My grandparents were the first family to have a party line and television, every Sunday family and close friends would show up and the kids played outside why the grownups enjoyed the TV and talking to different relatives. If you were outside being bad and was caught by the elders, you were punished by both parents and elders. I guess by me being raised by older couple my manners were good. I learned not to talk back at real early age and speak properly when spoken to. I was the first young women with a white leather coat and all the kids loved it. I once tried to let my cousin Lou Lou wear it and my grandfather chastised me something fierce”. My cousin Lou was the only female I had to play with because all my siblings were up north. We taught each other how to swim and fish in the pond behind our house. Bugs were something that didn’t bother us much we were use to them. The one thing that got us was the red ants” “oh yeah, said aunt Ruthie, that’s one thing I couldn’t stand going south for they were the worst. You step on a hill and they were up your leg in 5 seconds.” Grandma giggling recalled a time when she had to be rushed to town because her grandparents couldn’t and didn’t have the medicine to take them off. She said another ½ hour and it would’ve taken her breath. Grandma owned a pet goat who always chased people and she let chase her cousin Elroy and was punished. “after that beating with the switch, I never let her go again.
“In 1961 I graduated from high school and set out to find myself. I came north to Ohio where I attended Oberlin college seeking a career in drafting (don’t ask me why I picked that), I was fulltime student working at Bobbi Brooks factory making women clothes. I save up enough money in a year to purchase indoor plumbing for my grandparents and met the guy of my dreams. He was tall, handsome, and also military serviceman going to college also. We spent a lot of time together doing homework and just enjoying each other’s company. By the time I graduated from college in 1963 we were planning our nuptials. I called and told my grandparents and my grandfather was totally against it. “you haven’t even lived yet young lady” he replied. But I felt that I was in love. We eloped to another city and were married for one year before the trouble began”.
My grandma put her down as to say she really didn’t want to relive this part of her life but she wanted me to know. “I was pregnant with my first child Reggie; my husband was gone to train with the military. When he came home I can tell by his body language things had changed. Few weeks went by and the truth came out. I was not allowed outside without him and I could only go to work back home. I wasn’t allowed to speak to family and when I had my baby they didn’t even know. My father tried for two months trying to find us but had no luck. He thought that I had moved back too south and didn’t tell him. So, he calls my grandparents whom never left the south. The next thing I know my grandfather and father was at my door, grab me and Reggie to make us leave. I was so scared that my husband was going to find me take the baby and kill me. My grandfather said “Baby you never have to worry about him again”. And on that cold February morning he was right I never seen or heard from him again. Rumor has it that he was ran out of Cleveland never to return again. I then moved to Lansing Michigan with my maternal mother and started looking for work in my degree.
In 1971 I was hired by the State of Michigan, where I was employed as a survey crew member. After they found out about the degree I held I was moved to drafting technician. At this time, I learned of prejudice. I began to see what it meant working with a lot of male figures that held two things against me, the color of my skin and gender. My knowledge really was a problem with them. They had never worked with a woman who would’ve pick drafting in construction and for me to move up as quick as I did they flabbergasted. Ha” grandma said. It’s kind of like at my job today a lot of women are moving up and the tables are turning. “I’ve always taught my children never let anyone hold you back man, women, black or white from making the best out their lives. Sky’s the limit and God promised prosperity with faith only works. Never let nothing or anyone tell all things aren’t possible because through Christ baby it is.
The time was 5;17pm and my Aunt Ruthie decided that she better be getting home. I asked if I could walk her to her car? She stood up put on the high heal shoes and proceeded down the corridor to leave. Turning around really quick Aunt Ruthie says “Well, girl aren’t you going to walk me to my car?” I hurried towards my aunt with tape recorder in hand knowing I would get ear full. As we walked down the side walk sun starting to go down a little, kids outside riding bikes cars passing, music blaring my aunt Ruthie says, your grandma is very proud of her grandkids. Two making careers in the military as did our grandfather, college basketball star player and the ones who are taking great care of their kids. You guys keep her going and don’t you ever forget that”. Tears forming in my eyes I gave Aunt Ruthie a big hug and told “thanks”. On my way back in the house I wiped my eyes didn’t want my grandma to see me cry, plus I wanted to hear more.
Still sitting by the bay window, I asked my grandma did she want to watch the news? She quickly said “Baby reliving my life is the best news I want talk about today. You have taking me down memory lane and I don’t want to stop. Not until I get to my grandkids.” We both smiled and she continued on.
“In 2001, I lost my closes sibling out of all. I thought my world would end, but I continue to look to the hills for comfort from which my help will come. After working for the state of Michigan for 31 years I decided to retire and spend more time with both sets of parents were still living in Lansing Michigan and Cleveland Ohio. My aunt Edith had moved to Cleveland in the past years so I also wanted to spend time with her. It had seemed that all my life I spent working, and raising a family. Now that my children were all grown and have families of their own I can enjoy the elders in mine. In 2002, I took another hard blow; my biological father past. See in 1985 and 1999 I lost the parents (my grandparents) who raised me now my dad”. The look on grandma’s face was sad. I wanted to get up hold her in my arms just to let her know I was there and love her very much.
I am very glad that I had the chance to know my great grandparents. In one’s life they never even meet the grandparents. My mom the youngest from my grandma’s daughter made sure to always keep in touch with her grandparents so that when we as kids grow we will know the importance of ancestors. My grandma lost her mother in 2010, stepdad 2012, and another close sister in 2013 along with her stepmom. Life has bump in the road for her but she is true believer that things happen to keep you aware that nothing is promised not even life. My younger cousin had lost her baby two months after birth, the family was hurt with sorrow and remorse thinking that “What If”, my grandma told us then “You are not the author of your life just the carrier of the vessel, the lord is in full control. That evening as we winding down from the interview I could see in my grandmother’s eyes that she was satisfied. The warmest in her was flowing out like the rays from the sun. I gave her kiss and told her thank you. I told her to walk me to the door and lock it behind me. As I was leaving I felt a brisk wind go through my body. Grandma says that’s someone from heaven saying Hi, I immediately looked with tearful eyes and gave thanks to my ancestors because without their struggles and hard work I wouldn’t be whom I am today. I tell all my friends I learned a new me and I came from good people.
ge really was a problem with them. They had never worked with a woman who would’ve pick drafting in construction and for me to move up as quick as I did they flabbergasted. Ha” grandma said. It’s kind of like at my job today a lot of women are moving up and the tables are turning. “I’ve always taught my children never let anyone hold you back man, women, black or white from making the best out their lives. Sky’s the limit and God promised prosperity with faith only works. Never let nothing or anyone tell all things aren’t possible because through Christ baby it is.
The time was 5;17pm and my Aunt Ruthie decided that she better be getting home. I asked if I could walk her to her car? She stood up put on the high heal shoes and proceeded down the corridor to leave. Turning around really quick Aunt Ruthie says “Well, girl aren’t you going to walk me to my car?” I hurried towards my aunt with tape recorder in hand knowing I would get ear full. As we walked down the side walk sun starting to go down a little, kids outside riding bikes cars passing, music blaring my aunt Ruthie says, your grandma is very proud of her grandkids. Two making careers in the military as did our grandfather, college basketball star player and the ones