Births Deaths Marriages, Maternal Kin, Photographs

MY grandmother.

Every time I see you as a little girl, I think of one time you came, and I was going Overtown and you said you were going with me. You wanted to go with me. So I carried you with me, and I saw a lady I had been working with, and she had a granddaughter named Lisa, too. And so she said, “Oh, hello, Grandmother, you have your Lisa, too!” And I said, “I have my Lisa, too.” And you said, “Don’t call her Grandmother ‘cause she is not your grandmother.” That lady just laughed about that thing. You said, “Don’t call her Grandmother. She is not your grandmother. She is my grandmother.” Yes, sir. But you were ‘sleep before I got to Orcutt Avenue.

Margaret Allen newspaper

Margaret Colvert Allen (2 August 1908-11 February 2010)

Missing my grandmother on her birthday.

Births Deaths Marriages, North Carolina, Oral History, Paternal Kin, Photographs

Mother Dear remembers.

The last time I saw my grandmother was on her 90th birthday. It was a bittersweet visit to Philadelphia that I talked about here. In happier times, though, I spent hours recording her recollections, especially those of her childhood. This is one of my favorite stories:

Papa told me to go in the house, and ask ‘em for some water, a pitcher. Talking ‘bout my daddy wanted some water. And the first time I ever seen a grapefruit was there. I said I’d never forget that. ‘Cause I went in that house and asked for some water, and I said “Daddy said” – I called him Papa. Anyway, he wanted to know if he could have some water. And the lady [school superintendent Charles L. Coon’s wife] said, “Yeah,” and she got a pitcher and a glass. And I took it on out there. So Papa stopped and drinked him some water, and I was just standing there while they was fixing the water, and I looked on that table, and all ‘round the table there by the plate they had a salt cellar and half a grapefruit and a cherry sitting in the middle. And that thing just looked so pretty, looked so good. And I said, “Unh, that’s a BIG orange!” I said, “Well, next time I go to the store I’m gon get me one, too.” And sho’ nuff, I asked Papa, when we left – I don’t remember whether it was, it wont that particular time, but we come out, and were on our way to Edmundson’s store, and he wanted me to go in and get a plug of tobacco. Part of a plug. And tell Old Man Edmundson to put it on the bill. So he waited, he was out there on a wagon, he had a little horse, and I went in and told Mr. Edmundson Papa wanted a, whatever amount it was, he didn’t get a whole plug, ‘cause I think it was three or four sections to a plug of tobacco, and for him to put it on the bill, and I said, “He said I could have a orange. And put that on the bill.” And it was boxes sitting up – I’ll never forget it – the boxes sitting up with all the oranges sitting up in there. And I got the biggest one out of the group. The one that wasn’t even orange. I made sure I was gon get me a big orange! I got that and come on back out there and got on the wagon and coming from Five Points to almost home, I was peeling that thing and peeling it ‘til I got it off, and it was SOUR, “Ugh, that’s a sour orange!” I never SEEN a orange that sour. From then on I didn’t want no big orange. And I never even said nothing ‘bout it. And I said, “Now, that didn’t look like, that’s a light-complected, yellow,” it’s not a dark orange, like a orange, and it was so big. And now I always get little oranges. TODAY. I don’t buy no big orange. ‘Cause the little ones is sweeter than the big ones. But, honey, that was a GRAPEFRUIT, and that was the first I’d ever known it was a grapefruit. We ain’t never had no grapefruit. And so, I told Mama that was a, ugh, sour orange. And I told her ‘bout what the Coons had on there when I went up there. And she said, “Well, that was a grapefruit.” “A grapefruit?” I said, “Well, what’s a grapefruit?” And she said, “It’s like a big orange. But you have to put sugar on it most time. It’s a little sour. It’s got a little twang to it.” She said, “But your daddy didn’t never like none, so I don’t care that much about it.” And I said, “A grapefruit? I got myself a grapefruit.” But, anyway, it was sour, but I learned the taste, you put a little sugar on it, makes a little bit sweeter. I swear, Lord, I think about those things that I did when I was little.

And here’s the only photo of her, little. She was about 10 years old, and her sister Mamie was 13:


Mama made our little skirts and gathered skirts and blouses and every kind of thing, and sometimes Papa might buy one. But she measured your arms, see ‘bout what the sleeve is. I said, Lord, I’m glad them days gone. ‘Cause you couldn’t do nothing to suit … I don’t know, you couldn’t do nothing to suit the older people in them days, ‘cause they, what you ask, you didn’t have but so much, and every once in a while when you get a new piece of change, and you’d get something and you was glad ‘cause it was new, but not ‘cause it was fitting.   And that picture where me and Mamie, Mamie was sitting in the chair and I was standing up by it with that white dress on. Mamie sitting in the chair with her feet crossed …. Well, she had on a middy blouse, dress. It was all, it had a collar on it where had the tape running down there with the square collar and [inaudible]. And Mama made me that dress I had on out of her petticoat! She had, she used to sew a bit, and at that time embroidery wide pieces of cloth that come up, and the bottom part be all embroideried and scalloped all the way around there. Well, that dress I had on had all that scallop on there where Mama took her – she was wearing them hip underskirts, and where she was gathered up here, that had a band on it under there, and then this here was the whole yoke from halfway up to make this part, and she took that part and made me a dress.

Remembering my Mother Dear, Hattie Mae Henderson Ricks (6 June 1910-15 January 2001.)


Interview of Hattie H. Ricks by Lisa Y. Henderson; all rights reserved. Photos from collection of Lisa Y. Henderson.

Maternal Kin, North Carolina, Paternal Kin, Photographs, Virginia

Happy Mother’s Day!

Thinking of my mother and remembering my grandmothers with love and gratitude this day.


My mother and me.

Hattie&Margaret Henderson 001

My father’s mother and his sister, circa 1942.


My mother’s mother and her brothers, circa 1938. 


Sidenote: I first saw the last photo in a magazine article about Aberdeen Homes, a late New Deal housing project in Hampton, Virginia. My grandfather worked as a construction supervisor at the site and moved his young family into one of the first apartments. I finally tracked this photo down in the photo archives of the Virginia State Library.

Births Deaths Marriages, North Carolina, Oral History, Paternal Kin, Photographs

Remembering Mother Dear.

I had pneumonia twice.  The first day I went down to Graded School, that day it rained.  I come back – there was a hole in my shoe, and I slopped in all the water and got my feet wet.  That’s what Mama said, anyhow, and I taken with a fever.  

If I got wet – when I went to Graded School, it rained, and I slopped in all the water coming back from there.  Had a hole in my shoe.  Had pasteboard in there.  And then I’d go to sneezing and coughing.  And so Mama said, “You know you oughtn not to got wet!”  Well, how was I gon help from getting wet?  Had to come from school!  So that was the first year I went to school.  I remember that.  And I was sick that whole rest of the year.  I mean, wasn’t strong enough to go down to Graded School – she wouldn’t let me go down there.  So I stayed home, and Mama put all them old rags, that old flannel cloth, and she’d put it in red onions and hog lard.  And I had pneumonia.  And they was sitting up with me.  Said I hadn’t spoken in three days.  And so that old clock where Annie Bell took, it was up there on the mantel, it struck two o’clock.  Mama was sitting on one side of the stove, and Papa on the other.  So I said, when the clock struck, I said, “It’s two o’clock, ain’t it, Mama?”  And they thought I was dying.  So they had been sitting up with me.  So I think didn’t think nothing ‘bout it.  I went on back to sleep.  I didn’t know nothing ‘bout it.  Said I had double pneumonia.  So Mama got – honey, I had to wear a piece of cloth up here on my chest, one on the back, with Vick’s salve and hog grease or whatever that stuff was, mixed all up together and pinned it to my undershirt.  

And I thought about it, with Bessie dead — she died when I was eight months old.  And Mama Sarah took me as a baby and brought me to Wilson.  And I was the only child there.  Well, that’s how come, look like Papa, he felt sorry for me, I reckon.  Her husband did, and I called him the only Papa I knew.  So they all – I was always sickly and puny and: “Give her anything she wanted,” that’s what Dr. Williams – white doctor – so he said, “She can’t live nohow.”  And that’s when I had the pneumonia.  And so I didn’t want nothing but water.  So, “Well, give her all the water she want ‘cause she can’t live nohow.”  But I fooled ‘em!  Dr. Williams’ gone, Mama’s gone, all of ‘em, and I’m sitting right here!” 


The mantel at 303 Elba Street, 2014.

And for most of my life, she was right there indeed. Every summer, when we drove up from North Carolina to spend a week with her in Philadelphia. Every winter, when she came down to spend the holidays with us and my aunt’s family and her sister. Later, when I was in law school and grad school, I spent my breaks with her, and I even lived with her a short bit when I moved to Philadelphia. I will regret till I’m gone that I did not visit her more often after I left, but when I did I had the good sense to record her stories. Her death was my first real loss, the one that broke the spell, and it pangs me almost as much now as it ever did. I miss this woman.


Remembering Hattie Mae Henderson Ricks (6 June 1910-15 January 2001), my Mother Dear.