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

Remembering Uncle Jesse.

My grandmother’s second boy. Smooth. Dapper. Slick. Artistic. A chef. A painter. A hustler. A beloved uncle.

Happy birthday, Jesse Adam Henderson (17 April 1929-5 August 2005)!

ImageLucian and Jesse Henderson, circa 1932, Wilson NC.


 Jesse, circa 1938, Wilson NC.


 Circa 1944, Wilson NC.


 With wife Jean and my grandmother, probably in the late 1950s, perhaps at the Jersey Shore.


Always “clean,” posted at the bar, 1960s.


One of my favorite photos of my uncle, with my niece, who adored him. Philadelphia, 2001.

Births Deaths Marriages, Maternal Kin, North Carolina, Oral History, Photographs, Virginia

Remembering Margaret Colvert Allen.

She gripped a balled handkerchief, or a tissue, in that hand almost always. You’d only notice that little finger, crooked up above the rest, when she made certain gestures, like smoothing her dress across her lap. It was a source of endless fascination when I was a child, and she would obliging turn her hand this way and that so we could get a closer look. Her pinkie finger, it was, curled permanently into a C-shape.

Here’s how it happened:

My grandmother:  Ooo, I had a lot of friends.  We had a lot of friends.  We could not visit people all in the neighborhood.  We could not go, the children came to our house.  You know, to play and all that kind of – to play ball.  We’d play ball in the evening, and they’d put me in the field because I couldn’t catch no ball on account of my finger.  [Laughs.]  I always had to go in the field.  Louise and Launie Mae were whizzes.  Louise was a terrible bad ball —  I mean, she could play some ball.  But Launie Mae was good, too.  But, honey, they’d put me out there way out there in the field where didn’t no – just as soon as I’d reach up to catch that ball that thing would knock it out.

Me:  Right. How did you hurt your finger?

My grandmother:  Ah, you know, they had windows that you’d put a stick under.

Me:  To prop them up?

My mother’s cousin: Didn’t have a sash.

My grandmother:  Yeah.  And I was in there playing and took that stick out there, and it broke something.  But anyway, Mama said she had gone to town.  That’s what they say when they went into Statesville.  And she said when she came back, Golar came out meeting her with me in her arms, and said she had on a little dress, and said she turned the dress up and blood was coming through the dress off me, you know, my finger and everything.  It scared her to death.  So they carried, she carried me to the doctor’s, and they put splints on to get it – it was broken, you know.  He put splints on.  But, see, I would pick ‘em off.

Me:  Just take it right off.

My grandmother:  Take ‘em off.  And take ‘em off.  And hold my hand like that.  [Balling her hand into a fist.]

Me:  Okay.  So that’s how it healed.  It healed closed.  How old were you then?  Real little?

My grandmother:  I guess I was little.  I don’t know how old I was.  Two, three.  I don’t know whether Launie Mae was there or not.  I know Louise was, but I don’t know ‘bout all of ‘em.  But, anyway, I was just big enough to crawl up to the window and pull the stick out.

I have many favored photos of my grandmother, and this is one of the last:


At home, in her easy chair, just back from church, with that little finger.

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

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.