An old draft post I found from November 2009.
This is part II in my series about how/why I’m so focused on learning. It’s a learned trait – passed from my great-grandmother to my grandmother to my mom to me. This section focuses on my grandma.
The writing is choppy, and sometimes disjointed. I wanted to get the feelings and words down, and to convey the emotion that I feel. If I were speaking aloud about Mama, Grandma, and Mom, I wouldn’t be polished and flowing. And I won’t be here either.
This is my story of Callie, my grandmother. I wish I could have known her better.
This is my grandma, Callie Miller Murphy along with me and my mom. She was Mama’s first-born and only daughter, and I didn’t know her that well.
What I do remember is that she was always smiling, and that she and grandpa called each other Mother and Daddy – never their names of Jake and Callie.
Grandma graduated high-school from Wendell Phillips in Chicago, the same as her father. In fact, grandma was friends with the great poet, Gwendolyn Brooks, but grandma’s story was very different from hers.
My grandparents met at a party, and within a year of being married, they were parents to my mom. It was the middle of the depression, and times were hard for everyone, especially if you were black. My grandfather was very fair-skinned, and could pass for white, which he did occasionally to find work. Grandma was primarily a stay-at-home mother.
This is the house where my grandparents lived with Mama and Papa when they first married. My mother and her sister were born on a couch here. One of grandma’s brothers married the girl who lived downstairs. A member of the Miller family lived here from 1920 to 1973, and it’s still standing (this picture was taken in 2009).
The stories I remember most about grandma are these:
- She would organize the kids in the housing projects (they lived in Ida B. Wells when it was first built), and take them to museums and outings to downtown. She used to tell them that just because they lived in the projects didn’t mean that they couldn’t appreciate art.
- She made my mom take piano and violin lessons (which would amuse you if you knew my mom, as she is not the most musical of people).
- She insisted that they sit down to dinner together as a family every night, and eat off of cloth tablecloths and napkins which had to be ironed.
- She used to tell my mom that if you carry yourself as a lady, you were a lady.
- She loved to dance, and before she married my grandfather, she used to win dance contests in the clubs around Chicago. In fact, she won so many, she was barred from them.
At the end of her life, grandma couldn’t walk and was in a wheelchair. She was still smiling.