Posts Tagged ‘family’

What did you talk about around the table on Thanksgiving?
Predictions were that current elections and the possibility of war would be top topics. After the sumptuous meal, for the fortunate ones, the grown-up table talk increases. 
We were among guests who shared personal experiences, opinions, and concerns. A small group of adults who spanned five generations. Our common characteristics: African American. We were all employed. (The most senior are employed at staying well and alive.) We shared our middle class-ness, regardless of the path to arrive there. Each person speaking from their own generation: spokes in a wheel.
I have been trying to find symbols that represent what was most important, and disturbing. Were I a composer, I think I would make music. A better writer, perhaps a pamphlet of opinion, a summary and possible conclusions. I might save characterization for a future novel. 
But I am primarily a visual artist. One who usually thinks content before making art. I want symbols where there were no cymbals at the table. The words radiated out from the heat off the sun and cooled as they were politely spoken. Drawn childlike. At the center, each of us spoke from the core of hurts, large, small, deep. Too painful to admit. Lava-like flowing on the outside of a hardened inner core. Too painful to go deeply.
Perhaps, a ball of twine wrapped around a stone. Sometimes a ribbon of velvet and silk, sometimes the roughened rope.

Perhaps a basket made by gichee mothers or for Moses. Safe passage except for a tiny hole. 
Perhaps, a fire burned down to ashes and then getting new life, reigniting. How do you express the cycles of history? The collective rebellions shut down by guns? The passiveness of fear? Not telling our children the full extent of the law and its historic significance? Jacob Lawrence painted the tables but could not record the talk around it. Karin Walker’s silhouettes are just eye candy without the words behind them. 
Or, the broken chains. We are left with the comfort meal, some understanding of how we are all connected but no workable solution.

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Acrylic on canvas

by Bettye W. Harwell

One of the most collaborative  decisions parents make is to select a child’s name. Many books and articles compete with friends and family offering suggestions. And there have always been the unusual name.

After slavery, most African-Americans were able to choose a last name. This has made research more complicated. Two brothers might choose different last names breaking the way to trace documents. The cultural patterns of hyphenation varies. Some take the name of the mother. Others today might add the spouse.

Do the names fit the particular child? Many teen girls take another name to reflect their developing personality. For some a nickname lasts as the identifier.

My name went through transitions. I did not know when it started until I needed the original birth certificate for a passport. The State of Illinois sent me two pages, black with white text. There were changes and scratched out lines as if my parents were surprised at my arrival. (I was two months premature.)

I had often wondered who I really was and this certificate added to my uncertainty. My father had written me letters spelling my name in many versions. As a teen, influenced by a magazine, I changed the spelling myself. The federal government insists on using a different first name with my middle name while I use my maiden name. Note: Consider your potential spouses last name if you plan to use it!)

My brothers and I were up for adoption at one point. My older brother, the protector of identity, routinely sat us done asking “What is your name? ” It was an exercise to make us aware of our unique family bond. It served us well. It built character. It made me question who I am less.

Just recently I decided to look at the 1940 census. For some reason I kept putting it off. That is one census where I knew I would be found. There should be no mistakes like the ones found in earlier years. People were better educated and familiar with the forms, right?

To my dismay, at the end of the family grouping, one brother snd I are listed as the children of our legal guardians. I will go back when I calm down and try to find my older brother. But how do you correct a legal document? Can we take ‘facts’ at face value?

Who knew?

Age makes physical appearance seem more like family members. This often is experienced by adoptees, who share no common genes with their new parents. It is the shared history and family name that is important. You and I are who we are because of who we have become, and by our name. Does your name fit you?

My blog narcissushibiscusmandrake.wordpress.com  begins as a memoir in poetry.

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"by B. W. Harwell"

“by B. W. Harwell”

Bartering is not new.

The recent post “Four Oldest Events in Money” (HankeringForHistory.wordpress.com) reminds me of my grandfather. My family was always living in different places after the Civil War. By 1920 almost everyone had spread out North and West. Except my grandfather, my mother’s father.

William Henry Strickland, born in Mississippi in 1860, as the War was beginning. His parents had been slaves of Biddy Stricklin (husband?) and her son, H.M. I find them in Hardeman County, TN. They were allowed to marry. Kesiah may have been under a different master as she was on a different plantation. H.M. did place her with her children in Hermosa (DeSoto) MS when they moved from TN. The Stricklins and Cainon went to Red Bank (Marshall).

My grandfather wrote a brief account of his youth stating that his father would run away to see his wife, but always returned. H.M. decided to stop beating him, and brought the family together in Red Bank. He also freed Cainon (many spellings on the census records).

William was an early student. His father worked to bring teachers and schools to Red Bank. William was an early graduate from Rust College and married my grandmother, also a graduate. The family moved to AR while he attended Meharry Medical School. Once a doctor, he travelled between Little Rock and Oxford, MS on horseback.

My family found stability in the conclaves of women. My grandmother, a teacher and college professor, travelled to teaching jobs with her mother, her two daughters and baby son. When she had to leave the south due to a family urgency, she established the family, minus my mother, in Detroit. She bought two houses, a school supply store and vacation land in Idlewild, MI.

When my grandfather retired and came to Detroit to live with my aunt, my brothers and I were still living there. He brought with him the ledger books of his years as a doctor in and around Oxford, MS. He would sit at the dining room table after dinner and let my cousin and me read aloud the entries. He had the most beautiful handwriting!

Mr. So And So ……date…..rheumatis……..$1….date……1 chicken
Miss Mary So And So….date….dropse…..$.50…..date….1/4 bushel potatoes

We were 12 or so, and it did not take much to make us histerical. “Dropsy-dropsy” we sang out, squealing, dropping to the floor dramatically. So many illnesses with funny names, so many babies born, so long before payment, so little real money.

You might think these people were cheating my grandfather. They were very proud, hard working people. We knew this just by the fact that the bill was always paid. A chicken was shared from the best they had, at the expense of their family’s plates. They respected and loved him.

Who knew?
I learned far too long after his death that he had lived and practiced medicine in the undertaker’s establishment. His best friends were the undertaker and the preacher. The preacher’s widow told me they were the only ‘really educated men’ in the African American community most of those years.

Bartering is coming back better than ever because of hard times. Is the government taxing these transactions as earned income? What is your skill to barter?

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New Book

Kevin Parham is adding to his wonderful stories with a new book!  Check out his information and sign up for news. I am looking, forward to reading more about Martha’s Vineyard.

Best to Kevin!

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Where am I?

That was the question I woke up with this morning. Of course, it covers a range of possibilities. The first was opening my eyes at first light. The room looked familiar and strange at the same time. A few blinks and the reality focused: I was in the guest room of my daughter’s home. And why? She will receive an award for community service, and I will witness yet another of her achievements.

A flight of under three hours may seem the usual until you overhear a cellphone conversation. A couple settled down to phone their son. “Had a nice visit. First time ever flying, and gone well. Hoping return would go as well. Yes, they had figured out the wheelchair service. See you again soon.”

These travellers were senior citizens. And yet they had never flown on an airplane. I wondered how tech-savy they are. Does having a cellphone imply having a computer? An iPad? Blog or twitter account? We have our feet planted in the past and future by living in houses years old, modern stainless steel kitchen appliances, drive cars that talk back to us.

And yet there are still people who have not or will not fly. Children who may never ride a horse, milk a cow or ride a train. Our grandchildren ask what it was like in the olden days.

Friday Specials
My aunt was 82 in 1982. I remember asking how she had handled the changes from walking, horse and buggy to air and highspeed rail. How she had stayed optimistic after wars and little peace. I had bought her a tape recorder to tell her stories. For her youth, she said it was too painful to revisit. She lived in the present. She braved surgery to correct surgery that had blinded her. She taught herself to write again. She was introduced to color television’s beauty and read the New York Times again.

The tape recorder was never turned on.

Where does all that knowledge go if not passed on? Piecing toether from online clues, she was
..born in Meridian, MS to former slaves
..her father was in the USCT army at Vicksburg
..he was a railway mail carrier and may have died in a train wreck
..she lived a few years in a boarding school in VA where her mother worked as a domestic
..she lived with a brother and finished high school in Chicago
..she was among the few Black Yeomanettes working for the Navy in DC during WW I
which gave her veteran benefits for life
..she was a life-time member of the NAACP and women’s groups
..she put her age up and race aside to work for the State of NY for 35 years
..she had no children but helped educate her nieces, nephews and grands.
..she travelled widely and enjoyed many interests.

Who knew?
So where am I? also means, where am I in a long line of achievers? And where are we all?

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Ribbon! (Photo credit: Cut To Pieces)

Where are recent posts going? Why Dolls?

When you cannot sleep because your mind is making poetry or music, you might as well get up. The things you wanted to create, fly away like moths drawn to another light. I listened to C-span books for company: a reading by Alice Walker

Note to self: gift book for 60-year-old friends.
My project now is to explain why I have been posting about the dolls.

A search using Bing confirmed that my memory served me well. Using wax on dolls is an old tradition. For a sale, I gathered a small group of dolls made 10 years ago. The baked clay parts were sewn into kente cloth, stuffed with cotton batting. I had a badly broken ankle. This activity helped fill the sedentary hours. Now that I am using wax, it is natural to try the dolls again.

My restless thinking was wanting to explain more. To myself, if not to others. Should I write about my childhood dolls, ramble on about life, forget the point? That can wait.

Tonight it is about life. Define it in blocks of decades, places I have lived, etc. I want a timeline ribbon, smooth with some textured pattern woven in. It needs to be so long that knots will stand for difficult times. The lengths in between, decades noted. Such a ribbon would be like a river in the moonlight. Silvery bright, moving like silk in darkness toward a knot of rocks beyond the curves.

Have you seen preschoolers walk in tandem with large name tags swinging from their necks? Each has a little hand holding a rope, knotted to keep their places. My ribbon will have stories to tell, memories to share. When all senses diminish, the sense of touch remains.

Once I wanted a story quilt but now hope for the ribbon. If and when I move away, my ribbon can br pressed into my hand. It will not matter which end is loose. I will find a knot or smooth space with my fingers like the garbanzo bean rosary or greek worry beads.

My memories are told or untold? Have you heard this story before? Listen….



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Digital Art from UZU

Iridescent Egg

Easter Monday
The big news for children has been the White House egg roll on the South Lawn. This tradition started in 1878 after Congress passed a law banning the event at the Capitol, where it had started in the 1870s. (more…)

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