Veterans in my Family

My cousin's name on the Vietnam War Memorial

My cousin, Charles V. Redding’s name on the Vietnam War Memorial

On the day Charles V Redding III’s body was shipped back to the United States, my uncle was working. He was a part of the United States Air Force, and from my understanding, his role was to tend the bodies of soldiers who were shipped back home. And, although he was an uncle through marriage, our families were very close and he had no idea that it would be Charles’s body he’d see. I am not certain if he knew Charles, but he certainly knew his father and the rest of the family.

This is the narrative that my father tells of the loss of his nephew. My father, a Veteran of the Korean War himself, is still moved by the story and sometimes I think that it is the imagery that he constructs in his head that moves him most–the imagery of what it must have been like to be a witness to a familiar body coming in. I cannot imagine that experience either, or the experience of many other soldiers who witness, not just the lifeless bodies, but the actual incident in which their fellow soldier had fallen.

My father hardly ever discusses war or his years in service, but on occasion, he mentions a story or two. One story that he has begun to tell in more recent years is a story that addresses why he won’t fly from Maryland to Tennessee to see me. The story goes . . .

Korean War Memorial

Korean War Memorial

It was 1952, while awaiting a flight to Hawaii, a buddy came up to my father to give him some money he owed him. As the soldier fumbled looking for the money,  my father told him not to worry about it and that he could give him the money after they landed. His friend and soldier said okay and they waited to get on their planes. His friend boarded a plane and my father, at the last minute, was told to board another plane. His friend’s plane crashed and he never saw him again. That narrative is also deeply ingrained in his memory. Those are the types of stories that soldiers remember.

This Veterans Day, I thought deeply about the my father and his experiences in the military and I considered the fact that there is still so much more I would like to ask him about the time he served.

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Wacky Wednesday: What Is Your Favorite Way to Spend the Day?

Da Hype 1

Solomon Northrup's 12 Years a Slave

Solomon Northrup’s 12 Years a Slave

Rarely do I have the opportunity to spend the day reading anymore. My weekdays are spent at work and doing homework and making yet another outfit for my 6 year old who must participate in 50s Dress Up Day, Scarecrow Day or some other made up holiday to give kids an opportunity to wear fun clothes. On weekends, I spend a lot of time doing community service. I am exhausted come Monday morning! It takes me forever to finish reading a book nowadays.

What makes me happy and has always made me happy, is when I am able to read a book. I cannot remember the last time I crawled in my big chair, pulled up the covers and got lost in a book for an entire day.

You know that moment when you are shopping around for the best outfit for an upcoming trip? Or, after you lined up those chosen outfits on the bed and you are folding them and carefully placing them in your suitcase. While most are packing, I am lining up my books to read on the Beach. I get so excited about reading on vacation because it is uninterrupted time for me to read by myself. I get to lay on the beach and allow the ocean to be my background.

As I am writing this, I am dreaming of my next opportunity for uninterrupted reading.

Right now, I’m reading Solomon Northrup’s 12 Years A Slave. I’ll tell you about it and the movie when I’m done.

Da Realist 1

Muhammad Ali Center, Louisville, KY

Muhammad Ali Center, Louisville, KY

One of my favorite ways to spend the day is to hang out with my friends. My good friends are like family to me. These folks know me well, and I know them. They accept that I’m a little. . . ahem. . . eccentric. Most of them have seen me when sick as well as healthy; sad as well as happy; fat as well as slightly less chunky.

My best friends are scattered across the country, so we don’t get to see each other very often. When we do, it’s time to cut up! When we get together, it feels like we were never apart. It doesn’t really matter what we do because we always have a good time.

One mile above sea level, Denver, CO

One mile above sea level, Denver, CO

Some of our best times have been: blasting DeBarge’s “I Like It” and singing at the top of our lungs at the mall; going to see “For Colored Girls” and later staying up half the night talking about it; hanging out at the Kentuckiana Pride Festival (where we were “outed” for being straight); snorkeling in the Atlantic Ocean; seeing the sights in Denver; attending conferences in Toronto, Rutgers, St. Louis, or elsewhere. Here’s to good friends!

REPOST: Tracing My Family Roots in Maryland

Crownsville HospitalI often dream about my maternal great-grandmother, wondering what she was like. Was she anything like her daughter, my grandmother? She had long dark hair, her skin color was ruddy, according to the pictures that I saw of her. The U.S. census records indicate that my great-grandmother, Effie, was born in Upper Marlboro, MD and she lived there her entire life. Various census records list her as Effie Adams., F. Elizabeth Adams, Elizabeth Adams, and later Effie Butler when she got married. Everyone called her Effie, though. Her father’s name was John Quincy Adams (no relation to the president to our knowledge) and her mother’s name was Rachel Kettle.

Beyond that, all I know about her is that she was supposedly “mean as a damn snake.” Apparently, she came to visit my grandmother once after my grandmother moved to Baltimore. My grandmother was holding my uncle, who was a baby at the time, and he was crying for his diaper to be changed. Grandma Effie cursed at the crying baby and all of the noise he made. In fact, she was said to have cursed a lot.

There was another story told about Effie Butler. The legend is that Effie, having been greeted at her door with a crying baby on her porch, looked up and all she could see was the backside of a woman running away as fast as she could. The woman leaving Effie’s yard was one of Mr. Butler’s (as she frequently called her husband) women, running away and leaving their “love child.” Effie then proceeded to pick the baby up and put her somewhere in the yard, in the hot summer sun, and around whatever else was running around loose in the country. I’d like to believe that someone saved that baby that day.

Mr. Thomas Butler, my great-grandfather had another family, and I cannot imagine what it felt like for her to be married to a womanizer and to have many children of her own (roughly 10) by him. Perhaps her meanness was a source of survival and perhaps she was sick and tired of being sick and tired.

Here is where genealogy research is important, and I hope this story helps in understanding the kind of information that can be uncovered by doing such work. Rumor had it in the family that Effie had a mental illness because she was taken to the Crownsville State Hospital for the Negro Mentally Insane. I had never heard any details about what type of illness she was suspected to have, just that she had to have one since she was housed in their facilities.

Through research, I learned that Crownsville was designated as a place that quarantined black people with tuberculosis. Segregation prevented black people from receiving decent health care in decent facilities, so black people were sent to Crownsville as the result. Crownsville was described as an awful place for African Americans, a place where there have been accusations that black people were used as experiments and their healthcare was neglected.

What I uncovered about my great-grandmother, Effie, is that she was indeed admitted into Crownsville, but as a tuberculosis patient. She did, in fact, die of tuberculosis at Crownsville, according to her death certificate.

Family rumor led me to Crownsville to find her, but research told me how she got there.

Some Suggestions for Getting Started on Family Research:

1. Ask questions and listen to family stories. Write them down and/or record them.

2. Check out U.S. Census records.

3. Look at birth certificates and death certificates.

These are my Confessions: Making Friends with your Kid’s Friend’s Parents

birthday partyOne downfall of parenting is the many conversations I have with people I otherwise would never even talk to. Countless times, I have found myself at a birthday party of some kid in Nina’s class, where I was forced to have some of the most mundane, most pedestrian conversations with people I am not remotely interested in getting to know. But, I endure these painstaking chats, in hopes of not making my child a social pariah.

The more I think about it, though, mundane conversations are probably the safest way to go because any conversation on religion and/or politics is certain to create a situation where my child is alienated on the playground.  In the end, though, I always chastise myself for forgetting to take a shot of Jack and for forgetting to sing Public Enemy loudly in my home in preparation for what is certain to take place. (Don’t judge me, I know that I am not alone.)

One time in particular, I remember a woman going on incessantly about how much she misses her husband when he is out of town, because it forces her traipse their children around town all alone to do the necessary shopping. “People must think I’m some poor single woman!” she blurts out before a chuckle. Everyone else lightly chuckles and nods as if they agreed that being a “poor single woman” would be an unfortunate label for the story teller. Meanwhile, the real single mother in the crowd backs away, feeling alienated and wondering what exactly did she mean by “poor.”

Very recently, I took Nina to another birthday party and was hemmed up in another unfortunate conversation. The basketball court in our neighborhood was caught on fire and it melted (don’t ask me what it was made of, I was just as shocked as you). This became the topic of conversation among a few parents. One of the parents said, “Well, you know, there has been a lot of issues on that court. Since they opened, there has been nothing, but . . .” She looked at me and continued, “let’s just say, thugs.”

Did I mention that I am almost always the only black parent at these parties? So, it was clear that she minced her words in my presence. There was talk in the neighborhood of all of the black boys that play on the court since it opened this summer, and that they were not from the neighborhood. This is problematic for a number of reasons: 1.) They could not imagine that these boys were from our neighborhood, when in fact, many were. 2.) They immediately considered the boys seen on the basketball court as thugs. 3.) The picture shown on the news of the suspect who was videoed committing the crime, was indeed a white boy.

The conversation reminded me of my earlier post, “From Don Imus to Zimmerman: Tracing Conversations on Race & Victimization,” that addressed the court’s inability to consider Trayvon Martin as a victim. So, I was boiling hot at the assumptions made by the parent. Luckily for me, the party ended shortly afterward.

So, when your parents tell you all they sacrificed for you: 18 hours of labor, all of the money they contributed to your wardrobe, your violin lessons, dance classes, gymnastic classes, cheer leading uniforms, etc., be certain to add all of the countless times they were forced to engage in some of the most pedestrian, oftentimes obnoxious and offensive conversations with people they would otherwise never talk to.

Tracing My Family Roots in Maryland

Crownsville HospitalI often dream about my maternal great-grandmother, wondering what she was like. Was she anything like her daughter, my grandmother? She had long dark hair, her skin color was ruddy, according to the pictures that I saw of her. The U.S. census records indicate that my great-grandmother, Effie, was born in Upper Marlboro, MD and she lived there her entire life. Various census records list her as Effie Adams., F. Elizabeth Adams, Elizabeth Adams, and later Effie Butler when she got married. Everyone called her Effie, though. Her father’s name was John Quincy Adams (no relation to the president to our knowledge) and her mother’s name was Rachel Kettle.

Beyond that, all I know about her is that she was supposedly “mean as a damn snake.” Apparently, she came to visit my grandmother once after my grandmother moved to Baltimore. My grandmother was holding my uncle, who was a baby at the time, and he was crying for his diaper to be changed. Grandma Effie cursed at the crying baby and all of the noise he made. In fact, she was said to have cursed a lot.

There was another story told about Effie Butler. The legend is that Effie, having been greeted at her door with a crying baby on her porch, looked up and all she could see was the backside of a woman running away as fast as she could. The woman leaving Effie’s yard was one of Mr. Butler’s (as she frequently called her husband) women, running away and leaving their “love child.” Effie then proceeded to pick the baby up and put her somewhere in the yard, in the hot summer sun, and around whatever else was running around loose in the country. I’d like to believe that someone saved that baby that day.

Mr. Thomas Butler, my great-grandfather had another family, and I cannot imagine what it felt like for her to be married to a womanizer and to have many children of her own (roughly 10) by him. Perhaps her meanness was a source of survival and perhaps she was sick and tired of being sick and tired.

Here is where genealogy research is important, and I hope this story helps in understanding the kind of information that can be uncovered by doing such work. Rumor had it in the family that Effie had a mental illness because she was taken to the Crownsville State Hospital for the Negro Mentally Insane. I had never heard any details about what type of illness she was suspected to have, just that she had to have one since she was housed in their facilities.

Through research, I learned that Crownsville was designated as a place that quarantined black people with tuberculosis. Segregation prevented black people from receiving decent health care in decent facilities, so black people were sent to Crownsville as the result. Crownsville was described as an awful place for African Americans, a place where there have been accusations that black people were used as experiments and their healthcare was neglected.

What I uncovered about my great-grandmother, Effie, is that she was indeed admitted into Crownsville, but as a tuberculosis patient. She did, in fact, die of tuberculosis at Crownsville, according to her death certificate.

Family rumor led me to Crownsville to find her, but research told me how she got there.

Some Suggestions for Getting Started on Family Research:

1. Ask questions and listen to family stories. Write them down and/or record them.

2. Check out U.S. Census records.

3. Look at birth certificates and death certificates.

Wacky Wednesday: What Are You Reading?

Da Hype 1

Junie B. JonesRecently, my 6 year old has gotten into to Junie B. Jones books. I have enjoyed reading these books with her because I love watching her fall in love with a character. I have learned that reading a book series allows children the opportunity to get engaged and stay engaged with a character. Since she was a baby, we have read entire series of books. The characters are familiar to her and she looks forward to the newest experiences they face.

Junie B. Junes, who will not engage you unless you call her by her entire name, gets into trouble and she is brazen and fearless. She is spunky, and she gets into the type of mischief that was historically reserved for boys in literature. She is also creative and smart. I like reading about her new escapades and discussing them with my daughter. Her behavior also provides us opportunities to discuss how I want my 6 year old to behave.

I love watching my daughter explore literature and I am happy that we can now explore it together.

Da Realist 1

I just completed While the World Watched: A Birmingham Bombing Survivor Comes of whileworldwatchedAge during the Civil Rights Movement by Carolyn Maull McKinstry. As the title suggests, McKinstry was at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church when it was bombed on September 15, 1963. In fact, she had just seen her friends Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Denise McNair in the bathroom before the explosion.

I was interested in Maull’s perspective as teenager and as a survivor of such a tragic, violent event. As one might imagine, she had survivor’s guilt. She lost her best friend in the bombing. Psychologically she was traumatized, but she had no opportunity to discuss her feelings. No one talked about what happened–not at school, not at home, and not at church. When the church’s damage was repaired, the bathroom where the girls were killed was literally walled off. When she left Birmingham to attend college, she began drinking as a method of coping. It took her many years to come to terms with her alcoholism and her feelings about the bombing.

While the World Watched is compelling when discussing events that Maull participated in or witnessed. But the sections on other historical events and actors (like JFK and “Bull” Conner) are much less effective. Her narrative is not written chronologically; as a result, it is somewhat repetitive.

It was important for McKinstry to share her story of survival and illustrate the impact of the bombing on her life. While we mourn and pay tribute to those who lost their lives during the Civil Rights Movement, we give considerably less attention to the effects of violence on those who lived through it. Though I may have issues with this book, I’m glad she wrote it.

Starting from Scratch: Researching My Family History

A collage of some of the pictures and other documents that I found.

A collage of some of the pictures and other documents that I found.

I am approaching the topics of genealogy and family history with trepidation. I was raised with my grandparents and great-grandparents and always enjoyed hearing stories about their lives. Having studied African-American history for so long, I knew that I was likely to uncover a history that would make me angry. So, I told myself that it was better not to know. In fact, I was perfectly satisfied listening to my friends’ discussions of their family research and even providing historical advice and context, but I never thought of engaging in my own research until I posted on my great-grandfather for the blog. Both Da Hype 1 and I received such good feedback on the posts we did on our family histories that we decided to revisit the topic. Since I am the novice in this arena, I decided to discuss the process of getting started with genealogy or family research.

1. Gather Information: The first step is to gather information about yourself and your family members. Some of the suggestions include: letters and postcards; diaries and journals; photographs, photo albums, and scrapbooks; marriage, baptismal, divorce, and death records; tax records and property deeds. I have had success searching through Bibles. Large family Bibles often provide a space to record marriages, births, and deaths. In addition, people often put important papers and photographs between the pages of the Bible.

2. Inform and Interview Family Members: After having gathered all the relevant information that I have, I e-mailed my aunts to ask them if them might have additional documents that they could share with me. As it turns out, my Aunt Debra keeps old obituaries just like I do. So, she will be able to provide some of the ones that I am missing. Genealogists also encourage researchers to interview family members, especially elderly ones, who may be privy to family history, traditions, and secrets that younger members are not.

3. Organize Information: After having performed steps one and two, the experts suggest organizing the information before moving on. I found numerous websites that have family trees and other useful forms that are available to download free of charge. (See first link below.) So far, I have extended my tree out five generations.

An obituary/program from my great-grandfather's funeral.

An obituary/program from my great-grandfather’s funeral.

The most valuable documents that I found during my research were obituaries. They contain birth and death information; names and relationships of the survivors; and often the names of parents. I am cautious about using all the information without verification because they sometimes contain inaccuracies. For example, my maternal grandmother’s obituary falsely stated that she was married to my grandfather, who preceded her in death. Although they were together for more than 20 years, they never married. However, my mother insisted that the obituary state that her parents were married. (I know she wanted grandma to be viewed as “respectable.”) Fortunately, I know about this, so I won’t spend time looking for a marriage license that doesn’t exist.

My research is just beginning, and I am excited about what is to come. I am also looking forward to family gatherings (like Thanksgiving) as a way to learn more.

I found the following links helpful:

Wacky Wednesday: What Is the Most Important Lesson Your Parents Taught You?

Da Realist 1: Standing up for myself

I was very fortunate to have lots of grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, and uncles around when I was a little girl. And I think I learned some of my most important lessons from them. My great aunt Audrey had a tremendous impact on me. She never had children of her own, which is probably why she liked to have me around. She was a no-nonsense kind of person who was serious about good manners and education. She used to tell me, “You MUST BE intelligent.” So, it was clear that I didn’t have a choice.

Here is Auntie, all decked out in her Order of the Eastern Star regalia.

Here is Auntie, all decked out in her Order of the Eastern Star regalia.

Aunt Audrey (or Auntie as we called her) taught me to stand up for myself. I was always a little shorter than the children my age and a little timid as well. I stayed with her one summer when I was about four years old. She would drop me at Octavia’s, who would babysit while Auntie was at work.  At some point, she began to notice bruises on my back during my bath time. When she asked what happened, I would say “nothing.” Finally, she was fed up and said she’d spank me if I didn’t tell her what was going on. I, of course, spilled my guts. Mike, the babysitter’s son, was beating me up every day. He was also terrorizing his two sisters–one was younger; the other was my age. We told Octavia, but she never did anything.

Mike was one or two years older than I was, so I was afraid of him. But Auntie told me that I better not let him beat me up again. And if he tried, I was to “bite the shit out of him” and don’t let go. The next day Mike was up to his old tricks again–bullying. He hit me, and I latched onto his closest body part, which just happened to be his stomach. I’m good at following directions, so I did not let go. Octavia came and tried to pull me off, but still I hung on until my jaws were tired. According to Auntie, he’s probably still got teeth marks on him today.

Octavia asked me why I had bitten her son. And I was happy to relay that “my Auntie told me to bite the shit out of him.” It’s probably not advice that anyone would give children today, but my aunt was old school. I did not become a habitual biter as a result of the incident, but I did learn that I could stand up for myself. And I’ve had to do a lot of that over the years.

Da Hype 1

If you sit down for any length of time with either of my two parents, they are certain to engage you in a conversation of politics. Both of my parents were working class, blue collar folks, who were heavily engaged in their unions. In places like Maryland, that also meant that they were engaged in the activities of the Democratic party.

My parents never banished me to a place for kids only when an adult conversation was in process, so I heard their thoughts on politics and their thoughts on the way politicians operated our city, state, and federal governments. My first political education came from my home. And, as I became older, I was even expected to participate in those conversations.

When Mrs. Amina, the lady up the street needed people to knock on doors for voter registration and to ensure that voters had a ride to polls, my mother was happy to volunteer me for that job. That was my civic duty. So, when the time came for me to vote, I did so, without reservations. I knew what the inside of a polling booth looked like because I had gone in with my mother for years before.

So, I learned how to engage in politics from my parents. They taught me to stay politically aware, engaged, and most of all active.

Foto Friday: Something Blue

Each “Foto Friday” 2dopesistahs pay homage to our love of Pinterest by remixing one of the posts we saw there, the “30 Day Photo Challenge,” originally posted on the Little Bennet blog. We are presenting our photographs so that we can explore the power of the camera and how we see the world.

Day 11: Something Blue

Atari Game Joystick

Atari Game Joystick

Da Hype 1

One of my fondest memories of my childhood was watching my mother and father battle at Pac Man on my Atari 2600 game console. Of course, it looked nothing like this. It was black and wide, not sleek like the game consoles today.

Once, when I was nostalgic for my childhood games, I purchased this joystick, loaded with Ms. Pac Man, Galaga and some other games. I LOVE Galaga and I look forward to playing my games to relieve some stress.

This joystick was clearly made for old heads like myself, who are not interested in all of the new games, but still appreciate good family fun and a way to relax in the evening. It’s actually funny to see the simple graphics of these games compared to what’s out now.

Da Realist 1

I spent a lot of time with my grandparents, and I learned a lot from all of them. But my great-grandmother Della seemed to have just the right temperament to teach me how to do things. She taught me how to bake pies and cakes, and I loved to help her in the kitchen. She also taught me how to crochet. I could never crochet as well as she did, but I can still crochet a square (not sure what it’s actually called).

Baby Boy Blanket

Baby Boy Blanket

I’ve crocheted a few things over the years, usually baby blankets or pillows. I find it soothing, but I don’t often have time for it anymore. I found this unfinished blue-and-white blanket in my closet with my yarn and other supplies. I remember starting it for a friend who was having a baby boy, a boy who is probably in the first grade by now. Maybe one day I’ll go ahead and finish it.

Wacky Wednesday: I Am Blessed for Having . . .

Da Hype1

As soon as I began this post, the words of Jill Scott’s song “Blessed” popped into my head. In fact, when things are a little rough and I need me a pick-me-up, I play that song. The hook of the song:

“I woke up in the morning feeling fresh to death/I’m so Blessed, yes, yes/I went to sleep stressed, woke up refreshed/I’m so Blessed, yes,yes” She then goes on to address how thankful she is that her grandmother almost lived to see 92, her son was born healthy, and that she has the love and support of both her parents. This song reminds me that there is so much to be thankful for.

So, what exactly am I thankful for?

I am so thankful that I made the choice to see my aunt before she died last year. Last summer, my aunt passed away, leaving a void in our family that can never be filled. She was my mother’s sister and she succumbed to cancer after a long battle. It was terribly painful to lose her, as she was like another mother to me. I spent every weekend at her home growing up. She was undoubtedly the matriarch of our family.

A couple of months before she passed away, and when it was clear that she wasn’t doing well, I packed my bags and went to visit her. My husband and little one came in tow. In fact, all of our family came from far and near. We came from Tacoma, Washington; San Antonio, Texas; and Nashville, Tennessee. We all gathered in the waiting room and would take turns visiting with her. She was so happy to see our faces. I will never forget that look of happiness. She couldn’t speak, but she waved and smiled. Only she could fill a hospital room in that way.

While in town, we all gathered at another aunt’s house. We took a family picture, not knowing that this would be the last time we would all be together with both aunts.

I am so Blessed to have had the opportunity to spend those last moments with them both, and I feel especially Blessed to have the pictures to remember that moment.

We developed the picture and placed it in the room of my aunt who was hospitalized. While sitting with her, she would look at that picture and smile at the vision of her family all together. She was always happiest when she was with her family.

Da Realist 1

When I began to consider this topic, I also thought of a song, “Count Your Blessings” by Nas and Damian Marley.

I’ve got love and assurance/ I’ve got new health insurance/I’ve got strength distantrelativesand endurance/So I count my blessings

And give thanks to the master/That through all the disaster/We’re still here/Together after/Better count your blessings.

There is something wonderfully soothing about Damian Marley’s voice as he urges listeners to count our blessings. At the risk of taking the song too literally, I am blessed for having both my health and “new health insurance.” I consider myself to be in good health, although I could certainly stand to lose a few pounds. But I don’t have any major health issues. I can see my physician for preventative medicine and go to the hospital in case of an emergency.

According to Census Bureau statistics, there were 49.9 million uninsured people in the United States as of 2010. This recession has been a difficult time for many Americans. So many have lost their jobs and, along with it, their insurance. I realize that “there but for the grace of God” go I. So, for health and health care, I count my blessings.

Ok, 2Dope readers, What do you feel blessed for having?