Food for the Soul

my mom, two of my aunts, and one uncle, when they were kids

my mom and some of her siblings, when they were kids

On Mothers’ Day, I went to the house of my maternal grandmother and forgot to eat.

Baked chicken and rice, green beans seasoned with ham, macaroni and cheese, and dessert were all ready to be spooned onto a plate, and I arrived at her house just as the food was removed from the oven and as the burners on the stove were turned down, but I wasn’t hungry.

Two things fueled my sleep-deprived mind and the body I had just abused in the gym: 1) a quick brunch consisting of quinoa and an apple cinnamon muffin, and 2) a quest.

I was looking for old photographs of our family.  Yes, I had a specific project – this blog – in mind when I told my mom I wanted to ask her mother for the photos, but I wanted them with or without a publishing platform.

I love old photographs.  I’ve been known to abandon the party in someone else’s home to look at black and white photos of their families lining the walls in another room.  I love the quality of them, the way they serve as an immediate entry way into a conversation as they beg the question, “Who is that?”

The photos I was looking for were tucked away in closets sand storage bins.  The albums that held them could barely do so; some of the stickiness that held the photos under plastic sheets had worn off from the pages, and the albums had been stuffed with other mementos – cards, wedding and graduation invitations, programs, newspaper clippings – that had no home in pre-scrapbooking days.

But the images that had withstood years of being shifted from house to house and owner to owner because of moves in life and in death filled my afternoon with memories and laughter that fed my soul.

The Bachelorette Column, Louisville Defender, 1974My favorite discovery is a yellowed clipping of my mother’s column.  She wrote as “The Bachelorette” for the Louisville Defender in the early 1970s.  The Louisville Defender.  The newspaper that flashes across the screen right after Ebony and Jet magazines and the Pittsburgh Courier in the movie “Ray,” when Ray Charles refuses to perform at a segregated concert in Georgia, and every black print publication in the country blasts the story.  That scene is set in 1961.

My mom wrote, “But get your rap together before you approach her,” a sentence that holds the very sentiment I expressed in this piece from my own column several months ago.

(Grammar-obsessed Master of English in grammar and rhetoric that my mother is, I was surprised to find a mistake in her column that was, ironically, about a song title that’s grammatically incorrect.  She referenced The Dells’, “How I Wish It Was Me You Loved,” but both the grammatically incorrect reference and the correction were printed, “How I Wish It Were Me You Loved,” which is grammatically correct.  I think there’s one more mistake: “go along” should be “go alone,” but I’ll give my mom the benefit of the doubt.  From my own experience, I know copy editors sometimes miss things they shouldn’t miss and change things that don’t need to be changed.)

I find it frightening and sad yet funny and comforting to see that the Louisville dating scene hasn’t changed in 36 years.  Funny because it just is, comforting because it shows that a verse in one of my favorite chapters of the bible is true: there is nothing new under the sun, sad for the same reason, and frightening because I’ve realized the men about whom my mom and The Dells wrote and sang now have sons who have learned to model bad behavior.

My greatest laugh for the day came from another newspaper clipping, this one from the Courier-Journal.

Champion negro babies newspaper clip

My uncle and another baby as champion negro babies, KY State Fair c1940s

It features one of my uncles as a baby sitting next to another baby.  Both babies are wearing ribbons.  Between rips that made the message somewhat cryptic, I deciphered the words “CHAMPION negro babies” from the caption.  Apparently, contests were held at the State Fair in the 1940s for healthy babies.  I don’t know what they planned to do with the blue-ribbon black babies after awarding them for being healthy, but my uncle still has the silver cup he received as a prize.

Anniversary newspaper announcement

My maternal great grandparents' 50th wedding anniversary announcement

Photos and newspaper clippings from my maternal great-grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary were my third-favorite discovery.  I have no memory of their generation on my mother’s side. My great-grandmother died shortly after I was born, and her husband died several years before her.  I saw my great-grandmother’s name at least once a week for 18 years, on a window purchased in memorial of her in the church I grew up in, even before I knew the letters I was seeing formed her name.  And I imagine I had seen pictures of her prior to this past Mother’s Day, only because I didn’t stare at her the way I stared at my great-grandfather, a man I was certain I was seeing for the very first time, but whose face I had seen in his descendants many times over.

By the time I left my grandmother’s house some five hours or so after my quest began, I had learned that my mother and the sister to whom she is closest in age were truly playmates throughout their childhood; that the swing set my mother and her siblings played on in their backyard, the bicycles they rode, and the garden they ate from made them somewhat rich for their time; that my grandfather worked at night as a janitor to afford the house I spent most of my childhood in and that my grandmother still lives in today; that my mother and her siblings didn’t have indoor toilets at school until Brown v. Board of Education dissolved Worthington Colored School, their one-room school house for grades one through eight; that one of my aunts used to feed her dolls real food, until the day my grandmother smelled it rotting somewhere inside the dolls; that my aunt’s and my mom’s idea of fun was to bury their dolls in dirt and make them swim in mud puddles; that my mom listened to Johnnie Taylor and I listen to his daughter, Tasha Taylor; and that family and memories are treasured and meant to be shared.

At some point during my quest, friends of my cousins and probably some friends of their friends ate all the food.  My physical hunger did return, and even though my soul was fed two Sundays ago, I consider these discoveries just a nibble, temporary satisfaction of a deeper hunger to know, from the photo album to the mirror, “Who is that?”

the first house my mom lived in my maternal grandmother, in a rare photo by herself my mom at age 7 and 1/2 my mom and my aunt "tang"KY Central Ins Co c1950s

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6 thoughts on “Food for the Soul

  1. Miriam, just wanted you to know that I so enjoyed reading your article! Old photographs are special to me as well. Just recently as I sat with my dad during his last days,I pulled out some of the many photo albums tucked away in the hallway closet. Although he was weak and frail, each time I asked “who is this,” he recalled quickly who it was and even the occassionon which the photo was taken! Likewise, there were newspaper clippings from 40 years ago about various accomplishments of their children. along with grade school report cards.

    As my brothers and sisters were cleaning out the family home after the death of both my parents, the house taht each of us grew up in, the most valuable thing I left with was the photos which I will cherish always.

    Thanks for reminding me just how special they are!! Love to you, and keep up yhe good work!

  2. Mariam,

    Again, congratualations on the grant. I enjoy reading your thoughtful articles. This article on the family drew me in. I enjoy going through family photos as well. I used to do it more than I do now. I guess your article reminded me to slow down and cherish family more. My family is so scattered around the country that these days we have to send photos by email or on our phones. Anyway, I really enjoyed the article and I took some time to read some of the other, past articles listed on your site. You are very talented and I look forward to reading more of your impressive work.


  3. First let me say, congratulations, Mariam for receiving your grant and for taking the time to give us insight into you and what I imagine will be other women and their stories. I loved the pictures in the blog. My family does not have pictures, which is sad. Pictures can tell such a story and bring back so many memories. When Bri was little I snapped picture after picture just so she would be able to go back and know things…sigh…anyways….

    Excellent blog and I look forward to reading more from you and the direction the blog will take. LOVE THE TITLE as well. Cute!

  4. Sis. Redbone Afropuff,
    Congrats…I thoroughly enjoyed this wonderful article…Following in mom’s footsteps I see…Looking at the beautiful photographs of your family I realize that you were raised in a true home and not a house that was built with love and filled with warmth…Thanks for providing a wonderful picture and exception of what a strong extended Black Family looks like…Keep up the great work!!!
    Bro. Ron a.k.a. Tha Artivist
    How could you passed up eating that good ole home-styled rightly seasoned soul food that only the best Black grandmas make? You must have been focused like Kobe on the b-ball court in trying to find those pictures…Wonderful food for thought though!

    Thanx for the link love…Will return the favor!

  5. Hi Mariam,

    Just want to say hello, and thank you for sharing these soul-nourishing stories. (That CHAMPION Negro Babies photo cracks me up!)

    I’ve been living at the Faithful Fools for about 8 months now, and your dad told me to look up your work. I’m very thankful he did. I’m really feeling the type of artistry you’re doing here: blurring the boundaries between personal stories and political analysis, memories and history, and treating all subjects with compassion. Your dad said I’d feel a kindred spirit reading your blog, and he was right. 🙂

    By the way, I feel very grateful that he was the very first person I met when I entered through the doors of the Fools back in October 2009. What a brilliant and beautiful being.

    Thanks again, and take care,


    1. Thanks, Katie!

      I know my dad makes every effort to surround himself with good people, so I’m glad that one has found me.

      Please visit again when you can.

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