Saturday, May 3, 2008

The Grand Dame of Linden Street

My ninety-three years young aunt called me one night and asked me to take her to run some errands the next day. Folks, when my Aunt Lil calls and ask you to do a favor for her, you jump! You got to understand that this lady is a very unique person.

I asked her what time I should be at her home in the morning, “son, you know I don’t do anything ‘til I talk to the heavenly father and eat my oatmeal! Make it 10:00 o’ clock.” Yes ma’am.

Well, the next morning, I cleaned-up Old Blue and got some gas. I was at Aunt Lil’s home at 9:50. I had to be early, she detests “colored folks’ time”. Aunt Lil stepped out of her door with dark blue top and pants. She wore white knit-gloves, looking like she was going to a business meeting.

“Aunt Lil, you’re looking mighty….”
“….but, of course! Can I help you get up in the truck?”
“No! What do you think I am, old or something?”
After her valiant, independent struggle to step up into Old Blue, she blurted,
“Help me!”

Once inside, I clandestinely pulled out my voice recorder.

“I hope I’m not inconveniencing you, today?”
“Aunt Lil, it is my honor and my pleasure!”
“Are you going to ask me fifty million questions, again?” busted!

I ignored her question and retorted with a question about her morning itinerary. She said that, first, we were going to the bank, and then to the vacuum cleaner repair shop to get her two vacuum cleaners (circa 1960) fixed.

When I’m with my Aunt Lil, I’m guaranteed to hear her favorite reframes to the point where we recite them in unison:
“I think about each thing fifty different ways” and “I talk to the heavenly father, everyday”.

When I was a kid I thought my aunt was the wicked witch of the east. She was tough as nails, but she loved her family immensely. I didn’t appreciate this fact until I became older. You see, Aunt Lil was the second oldest girl in a family of fourteen children. After the death of her oldest sister, she became the surrogate mother of her siblings because my grandfather was working outside of the home all the time and my grandmother, well, really appreciated the extra help. Growing up in D.C. during the depression years were challenging for my family.

At the age of nineteen, Aunt Lil signed a lease for a new home at 1217 Linden Street for the whole family. She assured my grandparents that she could make moving to this “upscale neighborhood” work. Just imagine your kid telling you something like that. This perky young woman organized her siblings for the big move and actually pulled it off. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

Aunt Lil went on to purchase prime properties in the Capitol Hill area of Washington, DC. One property was just a stone throw away from the U.S. Capitol. All of her accomplishments were made during a time when black folks did not have many opportunities to advance their economic position in life, being a woman to boot. Yet, she became a millionaire by her “Harriet Tubman-like” pit-bull determination and her “Mother Teresa-like” compassion.

Her laser focus didn’t go over very well with most men of her day. She had marriage proposals and sought the company of men who met her high standards. But, her focus was the care of her family and the development of her little empire.

“I would love to have had four daughters so that I could raise them the way I saw fit. They would have had the best education. They would know how to take care of a man. My husband would never stray away because I would have been so good to him that he would not want any other woman. By my example, my daughters would know how to treat a good man.” Amen!

After we left the bank, I had the bright idea of swinging by Linden Street to revisit the old family homestead while I had Aunt Lil all to myself. With my aunt, you have to be ready for anything. For example, I wanted to interview her on the National Public Radio’s (NPR), StoryCorps, so that she could tell her own rich story. I made an appointment with StoryCorps and informed my cousin of my intent. We were all excited and the day of the interview my aunt changed her mind, stating that she wasn’t up to it. You see, she had open-heart surgery while in her eighties and as can be expected, she has good days and she has bad days. Nevertheless, she still loves to talk.

It was my Aunt Lil who told me about my great grandfather, Henry, who escaped from slavery as a boy and made his way to D.C. and supported himself selling ice on a horse-drawn wagon. She told me about my, grand Uncle Wil, who was the treasurer of Tuskegee Institute under Booker T. Washington. Aunt Lil not only cared for her aging parents and siblings, she cared for her nieces and nephews, as well.

Her family came first.

I keep my camera on me for auspicious occasions like this. When we arrived on Linden, a narrow street on Capitol Hill, I asked her to stand on the steps of the old family home because I wanted to take a picture of her there, some seventy-five years after she made that audacious decision.

“I don’t want to take no picture. I’m not dressed properly” uh?
“Aunt Lil, you look great. You look ‘dignified’!"
“Oh, go on boy, you’re just saying that”

I snapped a few pictures and all of a sudden neighbors began coming out of their homes to see what was going on. We introduced ourselves and Bob, Helen and Lisa seemed very interested in Aunt Lil. When my aunt recognizes that young people are interested in what she has to say: stage lights come on, there’s a sound check and cameras roll! These “Lindenites” swapped stories, fact-checked and had a grand ol' time. Bob had to run back to his home to get his camera and voice recorder for posterity.

While Aunt Lil took center stage, I stood back and watched how these boomers, like me, really got into “her-story”. I thought about how fortunate I am to still have my aunt, my mother and a few other senior family members in my life and all the knowledge that they have imparted on me, while feeling ashamed of hating my aunt when I was a kid. When I was a child, I thought as a child. I was so proud of my aunt’s energy and recall for facts. Aunt Lil never lets me forget how sharp her mind continues to be. “I think about each thing fifty different ways.”

Before we left, Linden Street, she asked Bob if he was married, “you know, I’m still looking” flirt!
On June 1st, Aunt Lil will be ninety-four years young. Please join me in wishing her good health and continued strength. By the way, I asked her what she was going to do on her birthday. In character, she replied:
“Get a man and remodel my basement.” you go, girl!


yummy411 said...

fantastic story! i have to look up a program that will help us save our blogs. you can't trust these host servers with all of this great info!

microbrother said...

Thanks, Yummy...Aunt Lil has been way ahead of her time. And she is still planning for the future!

bsenergize99 said...

microbrother, again you have touched my soul with these poignant stories of those who came before us. Sounds like Aunt Lil is one heck of a lady.

Craig Smith said...

Hey Aunt Lil,
On your 94th birthday you have withstood the test of time, battled the trials and graciously accepted the tribulations. You have withered many storms and awakened to many sunshining days. Your wisdom, humor, keen sense of business and family leadership has been admired and inspired by all of your family and friends that you have touched.

Aunt Lil, stay strong as there are many more sunrise's to wake up to.

Your Nephew,
Ricky Smith

Anonymous said...

Wow Aunt Lil you look absolutely marvelous! I look forward to seeing you and celebrating with you on your 94th birthday. Thank you for your style and grace; walk of faith that teaches the generations that follow by example. May God's glory continue to shine through your life. He has blessed me to know you! In this life time.

Much love
your great Neice