I won’t say this one of my grandmother’s favorite stories. It was too painful to be favored. But it was a story she told me over and over, without prompting and with little variation. It tears me up to read it even now, nearly a hundred years after the events it memorializes. I imagine that frightened little girl, a near orphan, left with this relative and that, yearning for comfort from a great-aunt who generally offered little in the way of emotion, but who, to provide, went North for short stretches for the extra money she could make doing “day’s work” for white families. Theodore and the bread and the doorbell. My heart breaks.
And I went over to stay until – Mama was working. And so Edward, that was – Edward or Theodore? Theodore. It was Carrie’s, Papa’s daughter Carrie, like Annie Bell’s sister Carrie. That’s where I was staying, over to her house. And Mama was working and staying on the lot with the people, and I was supposed to stay with them while I was up there. Until Mama, I reckon ‘cause she was gon be making a little money to buy something with, but I don’t know what she said she wanted. So by her being one place and I was in another. And then when her son, Theodore – we went to the store to get a loaf of bread, and I went with him, I wanted to go with him. And he took me on down to the store, got the bread, then he give me the bread to hold, and there was a place in the sidewalk of dirt, where wasn’t paved, and he stopped there with some children and started shooting marbles in little space, that little square. So I walked on down the street, and we wont too far from the house, but I kept looking and trying to figure out what house we were in. They were all joined together. And I had seen him go up there and put a hand upside the thing, and I said, ‘Must be a bell up there.’ And I went up there and mashed that button, and the door didn’t come open. And so then I went back down the street to where Theodore was, and he was still shooting marbles. And so, I said, “You better come on, I’m tired of holding this bread.” And so he said, “Okay, okay.” And so then he stopped, and we come on up there, and the door was cracked open. The door was cracked open. So when we got there, I said, “The door was open. And you didn’t even have to mash the button up there.” Mash the button where was to the apartment where you live in? And they would mash the button back to open the door. But the door was already open. But I had mashed it, see? I didn’t know. So when Theodore and I went back up there, and we went in, and I had the bread, and the bread was all mashed up where I had held it so tight holding it. And so she fussed him out and whipped him on top of that, and I went to crying ‘cause I thought she was gon whip me, too, ‘cause it was both of us. And so I said, “I want to go home. I want to go to where Mama is.” They said, “Well, she’ll be over tomorrow.” And I don’t know if it was tomorrow or the next day or two after, but anyhow Mama come and got me, and I told her that I wanted to come home. And she said, “Well, I thought you was doing all right. What’s the matter with you and Carrie?” And I said, “She beat Theodore.” And I said we were at the store getting a loaf of bread, and so we stayed too long. He was shooting marbles, and I was holding the bread, and I had mashed the bread up, and I thought she was gon whip me ’cause I forgot about the bread, and I couldn’t get in the house to bring it to her. And when I mashed the button, the door didn’t come open. So then when Theodore and I came back, went on up there, and honey, she took her husband’s belt, one of his belts he had, and she whipped him, and I was crying, and I’m still crying. I said, I reckon that’s where I started crying ’cause every time I see somebody else cry …. So I told them I wanted to go home, and she said, “Well, Mama’s coming over tomorrow.” And so I stopped crying, but I thought Carrie was gon whip me, just like she whipped Theodore, and I was the one that mashed the bread. But I didn’t tell it. But she said we stayed out too long. Bread’s all mashed up, said, “Should have come on home.” She was fussing with him, and then she took the strap and hit him two or three licks with that, and I thought she was ton hit me, too. And so Mama came and got me and took me back over Frances’ house. So then she said she was going back South. And I was just happy to go back there.
They said, well, [inaudible] get some bread, went to the store. I didn’t know where the store was, but I was just going with him to the store, you know? I got the bread, he give me the bread to hold, while he was shooting marbles in that little space was out there. And come on back, and I went way to the house and mashed the button ‘cause I’d seen him mash it. Didn’t want to ask nobody nothing. I said, I didn’t know them peoples up there. So the door didn’t open, and I went on back to find him and get him to come home. And I had held that bread so much and turned it from one end to the other under my arm holding it, and mashed the bread up. So Carrie looked at him: “Well, where y’all been so long?” And then she got that strap, ‘bout this long and ‘bout this wide. And she hit him a lick or two with that, and said, “I sent you out there after some bread, and you went off and stayed and stayed and stayed.” And so when she was hitting him, I went crying. So I thought she was gon beat me, too. But she didn’t. She didn’t even try to chastise me or talk nice to me or nothing. It was just simply ‘cause I’d done mashed that bread up – I had the bread when I went up there, see. She wont thinking ‘bout me. But I didn’t think that, nothing about it until it was later. I said, ‘No wonder she was gon beat me.’ ‘Cause I had done mashed that bread all up holding it up in my arms and changing it from one arm to the other, waiting on him shooting marbles. But I didn’t tell on him. But she knew he was shooting marbles.
... Mama took me to New York and everywhere she’d go. I stayed with Frances and her husband and son, when Mama went up there to work. And so I stayed with Carrie first. That was Albert Gay’s mama’s sister. She had one son, Edward. And she sent us to the store to get a loaf of bread. I’ll never forget it. And in the sidewalk, it was a block out the sidewalk where was closed up. And it just had dirt in it, and we went to get that loaf of bread. He handed me the loaf of bread, and when we got to that block it was boys shooting marbles in that little square where it was dirt. And so I got tired of standing there waiting on him. And I went on up to the house. And had seen them where they go up there and pushed the button. And the door didn’t come open then, and I went on back to where Ed was. And stood there waiting ’til he come to go in the house. And when we got to the house, the door was open. So when we got upstairs to the apartment floor, Carrie commenced fussing with him about ‘Who’s that coming in there playing with that bell?’ and opening the door, or something, I started to say it was me, and then I — she talked so hateful, and she beat Theodore, ’cause he got the bread all mashed up, with the belt. So I went to crying. I cried and I cried. I wanted to go home. I wanted to go where Mama was, but Mama wasn’t supposed to come over there ’til the next day or a day or two after that. I don’t know where she was working. Except that she was doing some day’s work. ‘Cause day’s work was plentiful then. People would clean up. So Mama wanted [inaudible] carried me with her and left Mamie there with Papa and knowing, too, Papa didn’t like Mamie. So, anyway, I cried so, and Mama took me over to Frances’ house. That’s where Mama come, after they took me over to Frances.’ I don’t think either one of ’em had no phone at that time and … but anyway, she come on over and got me, and I told her I didn’t want to stay there no more, I wanted to go home. I said I wanted to go where she was. She said, “Well, you can’t go right now,” said, “I got a job to do.” She said, “Well, I’ll take you over to Frances’. So that’s when she took me over to Frances’ house, and Edward.
“Mama” Sarah Henderson Jacobs (1874-1938) reared my grandmother and her sister Mamie, her great-niece. Sarah’s husband, “Papa,” was Jesse A. Jacobs Jr. (1856-1926). Annie Bell Jacobs Gay and Carrie Jacobs Blackwell (1890-1963) were Jesse’s daughters by his first wife, and Theodore Blackwell (1908-??), not Edward, was Carrie’s son. At the time this story took place, the Blackwells were probably living at 37 West 112th Street in Harlem, just north of Central Park. In 1920, this was an all-African-American, fifteen-family building in a block otherwise occupied by Russian Jewish immigrants. Frances Aldridge Cooper Newsome was my grandmother’s paternal aunt, sister of her father Thomas Aldridge. Edward Cooper was Frances’ son.
Interviews of Hattie H. Ricks by Lisa Y. Henderson; all rights reserved.