Thursday, January 12, 2012
Remembering Martin Luther King...
[This was originally posted on Watergate Summer 2006/2007 , in honor of MLK I am reposting and honoring those of us that grew up in the Sixties and remember having Leaders violently taken....Remembering how we as children had Dreams.]
Whenever I think of the year that Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were taken from us, I also think of my Aunts. In particular my Aunt May. She lived in downtown Baltimore on Eutaw Street in a mammoth old brownstone during the 1960's, her last decade.
She was my great great Aunt. Her real name was Margaret May , her stage name was Margeurite.She had lived quite a life by the time I stumbled band aids and chewing gum, into her historic living room. Her house was like a museum, full of trinkets and precious relics from around the world and a lifetime of adventures and secrets. She was born after the Civil War in Kentucky. She spent her early years wandering with her dad, from Virginia to DC to Kentucky. And as she grew older she would help carry his supplies. Her mother died when she was small, and she was always blaming that for a lack of ladylike manners.
Her dad was one of Lincoln's photographers, he traveled with the Brady Pack. He didn't make alot of money, but he did get to keep the rejected plates and the faulted pictures. ( And in case you are wondering- Lincoln was NOT photogenic, and he really did have a good side, and a not so good side). The old photographs were kept up on the 3rd floor, lined up around the walls. They told of a Lincoln that we never saw in the History books. They showed him dozing in a chair, playing cards in a tent with Union troops, and hugging one of his sons. There were none with his wife "And Don't that about say IT All, although I heard she didn't photograph so well." Aunt May used to say. There were also photographs of battle scenes, bloody carnage and singed buildings that remained stained with blood , even though they were not in color.These graphic pictures fascinated me. Even shots from surgery tents."Whelp, she is fascinated with the bloody medical stuff, she will be a surgeon or a Killer" Aunt May would joke to my grandmother. Flo would tell her to shush.
I would go to visit my Aunt May with my grandmother ,especially that particular April as my mom's Dad was in the hospital at Hopkins that spring, and we had just moved back from Indiana that winter, and she needed my sister and I out of her hair. Aunt May 's museum was my first choice, my sister went to a friend's house. Aunt May had pictures from around the world, places she had traveled and sang.Her house was big lumbering Brownstone it was a Museum that you could smell and touch the past. When you opened the door it hit you in waves, the aromas , dusty books,Strong Black Tea, French Perfume, Myr and Patchouli from India,and Okra Gumbo steeping on the back stove. She was an Opera Singer and Actress in the early 1900's. Her stage name had been Marguerite. Her old programs were also in a box in the 3rd floor. She was a beauty, she sang, danced, acted and did Vaudeville. She had long flowing hair and beautiful eyes. She was even painted by some pretty famous painters in Europe, in some very interesting outfits.And yet when she spoke she still had a Kentucky lilt. She told amazing stories that were all her own.
She would come up to the 3rd floor with me and sit on an old velvet stool and show me the old photos from all over that her dad had taken, of the South after the war, freed slaves, and coal miners, and also urban pictures of life in downtown Baltimore in the Victorian Era, and even of the Baltimore Fire ( when her dad ran out to get the pictures and almost lost his house in his own fiery enthusiasm. ). She had saved them all, the plates were carefully separated with felt and tissue. She also had her Entire collection of National Geographic, she had been one of the First Women to join the "Society", and she was proud of that. She also was one of the first women to vote in Baltimore. She gave me my first Brownie camera and said I was going to be a photojournalist.( I used to wonder if she knew I became a nurse, and was she disappointed.) She and my grandmother would give me little notebooks and I would question people at the family events and write down their stories. ( My pictures never quite turned out).
Now the funny thing was that some of the other peripheral Aunties , that I was not close to , but who did come to the Family events used to say that she was a "Lesbian", in that loud hushed falsetto whisper that would make any one cringe. She used to laugh about it. One day we were cleaning her room and she said with a bold "Do you want to meet my men?" I of course said "sure".
She brought out a huge old hat box, inside were photos and love letters and it was pretty full. My grandmother walked in , right when I was asking " But Granny Ethel says that you like Women better than Men ?" She and my grandmother both laughed.
" Well, I have never been able to know what to do about That, I guess I should have told the truth. Ethel is my cousin and she is a good godfearing Christian, and I was afraid if she knew that I had had affairs with quite a few married men, that all my holidays would have been spent listening to how fast I was going to Hell. And for some reason the Women story was just easier, it rendered her speechless.She had Jesus and I had my men."
We were at her house the night that Martin Luther King was shot dead and Robert Kennedy spoke about it, and the radio replayed it. (At this point in my life I always picture the video we see of Bobby Kennedy speaking on the back of the truck to the crowds in Indianapolis). Aunt May said " Now the Trouble will Begin." I didn't know what she meant, and I didn't know why she was so upset, I only knew that I had chills and a deep emptiness. She hustled into the Kitchen and began making soup, this she did whenever she was troubled. She would chop, dump and stir, and the pot would boil and hiss. Flo said " Now May you don't know that...for certain". "Oh, Yes I do." Flo didn't say another word. She used to say that May had a way of Knowing Things. I asked her was it like fortune telling.I needed to Know. She said it was more like predicting weather, and that of all the Aunties , May always Knew things first. Things that Mattered.
I remember Robert Kennedy that night, and I asked" Aunt May if he was Hated too? ""or did people fear him? "She shook her head and cried as she stirred the soup witb rage, angst and sorrow. She was 90 years old. I was almost eight, just days away. And that night there was singing outside, hymns and gospel songs and Aunt May went and got candles to put in the windows.She was too upset to sing. We stayed and then went home late.It rained as we drove home. Flo said "Maybe God was crying with us". I remember hearing the wipers squeak and handing her Kleenex and lifesavers out of the box on the seat. It was a sad rain. And the lifesavers tasted salty.
Later that spring as summer came Aunt May explained that she had had voice pupils that now were grown and that she taught in Boston and that they told her about Coretta Scott King, and how she went to Boston, and that she had the Voice of an Angel. And that she fell in love with Martin in the early 1950's and he fell in love with her. Aunt May talked about how they loved each other and how they Believed in each other. She said, now that isn't Romance, that is true Love. They Marched together. They shared a Cause. She said" Now , yes, if I had found That, I would have been married." She also explained that she Knew that Coretta would Never remarry. She talked about their Love, and trying to raise children with bombs and threats and Martin being taken to Jail. She used to talk to me about it, because she said she was worried that I wasn't get "Taught Right at school. They keep everything too Damn Polite".
Aunt May lived in an all Black section of downtown Baltimore, but she had lived in the house, and owned it herself for over 30 years.My grandmother was always trying to talk her into moving uptown with her and Ted, but she would shush her pretty fast. She was very stubborn. "This is MY Home and these are my neighbors, and we all know each other. They don't treat me like some fragile old person, they treat me with respect. They don't care what color I am. You go home and tell Ted that." ( Ted was granny Ethel's eldest son and he had some strong feelings about the eccentric old aunt that refused to leave downtown ). And later that summer The Riots happened after Robert Kennedy was killed and we came to her house one day and found Baseball bats behind her door. Flo was not happy about this find. "May???". Aunt May shook her head. " Please , please think about coming Uptown with us?"
" They are grieving, angry. They are my neighbors. I will not abandon my neighbors during times of Trouble.This is my Home."
It turned out that each evening the Men of the neighborhood would come and sit with Missy May, and guard her house. And yes, they were black, and it didn't matter to her, and it didn't matter to them. They were neighbors.She would serve them soup and they would talk as Downtown Burned. And yes a bottle of best bourbon was shared for strength and they sat there in the dark with baseball bats. And she would sing softly. She got through the Baltimore Riots with not so much as a broken window.
She used to sing "This Old Man" and "Where Have all the Flowers Gone"," Amazing Grace" and brush my hair, and later when I had a baby of my own I realized how grateful I was that she taught me that lullabies are for Troubled Times and Troubled Souls.Once again we are living in Troubled Times.
May Coretta be remembered as the Brave Wise Woman that Marched with Martin by his side, and sang to his Soul, and carried on his Work and his Love, and The Dream.