|Fannie Mae Turner|
Written by my mother, Doris Graham Cleage in 1976
Mother must have been about 18 or so when she graduated and went to work as a clerk in her Uncle Victor's store. She eventually became manager and worked there until she married in 1919 at 31. From all she ever said she loved working in the store. She enjoyed working with the clerks and the "drummers", (salesmen). She and Uncle Victor got along just fine. He was involved in many things and was happy to have someone to manage the store. She loved ordering the right things in the right amounts and having the books come out right to the penny. One of her favorite stories was about some of the drummers who came to get orders.
"They would call me Fannie," she would say, "and when they did, if they were looking north, I looked north, too. if they were looking south, I looked south and I never answered them. They usually caught on pretty quickly. When they called me MISS Fannie, I suddenly saw them and heard them and we could do business."
|Victor Tulane's store 2009 Ripley & High St, Montgomery|
She always held her head up very straight when she told this story. She really enjoyed business and could do arithmetic a mile a minute. I remember her suggesting to Daddy that she could serve or make and sell lunches to the men at the factory across the street. But he said no wife of his would ever work, that he could provide for his family. He thought it would be a reflection on him if his wife worked. I'm sure he didn't realize what it would have/might have meant to her. I think she found housework a bore, although she never said so.
When I first said I was going to get married she looked rather sad and thoughtful and said, "Why don't you wait a year or two. You're just finishing college and could have a life of your own for awhile." That's all she said and of course being in the firm, grip of Mother Nature I didn't even consider it. But I've often thought about it since. You know she never had a "life of her own". She lived with her family and helped to support them until she married. She married in June of 1919. M. Vee was born in April of 1920. She had a taste being on her own because at least she had the experience at Uncle Victor's of making it in the outside world, so she had no fears on that score. She must have thought many times of leaving home, especially after Jennie T. married Alice's father. But I guess she stayed because he was a weak reed for Jennie T. to lean on. By this time Daisy must have been teaching and she always (all her life) lived at home, so I don't know why Mother didn't leave.
Anyway, when she decided to leave, she left for love, judging by the letters she wrote Daddy and the ones he wrote her. There is a playful, relaxed, familiar quality to her letters to him that I don't remember seeing in her any other time. She told me once that she loved only one other man and he wanted to marry her, but she felt he would not be a good husband and father so she turned him down. I think he is one of the rakish looking handsome dudes in the album, but I don't really know. She said she was right about him, that he made the girl he married most unhappy. I think she and Daddy loved each other dearly for all the 54 years they lived together. Did I ever tell you the following story?
|Mershell & Fannie Graham about 1919|
You know Daddy had very mild diabetes. Medication was not necessary. He controlled it by eating no more than three slices of bread a day and sweets no more than once a day. Sometimes he didn't get enough carbohydrates and would get 'high' on a lack of sugar. One day in 1972 Alice called upstairs to say Daddy was "sitting on the floor and wouldn't get up". I went down and sure enough there he was, sitting on the floor in the bedroom singing and waving his arms and having a good time. I had never encountered a lack of sugar "high" and he really seemed to be drunk, which I knew was impossible. I called Louis who said give him some orange or pineapple juice with a spoon or two of sugar in it and he would be all right. Alice went to fix the juice while I persuaded Daddy to get up and into bed. He kept looking around, saying, "Where's my girl" She is the sweetest girl in the world. Where is she?" The he would see Mother and cry loudly like he was making the happiest announcement in the world, "There she is! The sweetest girl in the world and she's MY girl!" Then he would look around at us like am I not the luckiest man in the world? This when both were 84 and had been married 53 years. Well, anyway he drank the juice and in a few minutes was himself.
Henry was there with me and Daddy asked us to come into the breakfast with him away from the others. He looked all worried and asked us what he had said when he was "high". He couldn't remember it at all except that he felt dizzy and sat down.
"Did I say any bad words?" he asked. I have never heard him use a bad word in my life... not even a "darn"!! Mother used to say darn sometimes, like when we were especially worrisome, she'd say, "Darn your time!" She even said damn on occasion but never to us. But I didn't know Daddy even knew any bad words. We told him what he had said and he was relieved. Such a testament to love I've never seen the like of.
Back to Mother. I think she thought marriage would be all the good things in the world like all the rest of us. Like me anyway. Her first year must have been Hell. They married in Montgomery, went to Detroit and roomed with good friends from home, Aunt Jean and Uncle Mose Walker (not really related). A favorite way to pay for your house was to take in roomers from home and it was a good way for them to accumulate a down payment on their own house.
You remember Uncle Cliff was Daddy's adopted brother and I think at one time they both liked Aunt Gwen. She chose Cliff, the dashing devil and rued it the rest of her life. Both she and Mother became pregnant that year. She had a cute pregnancy, Mother was miserable. Aunt Jean was an arrogant, self-important person who was considered by all, including and especially herself, one of the great cooks of all time. Mother could not cook. M.Vee was born in this house. It was a very difficult delivery, labor was several days long. The doctor, whose name was Ames, was a big time black society doctor, who poured too much ether on the gauze over Mother's face when the time for delivery came. Mother's face was so badly burned that everyone, including the doctor, thought she would be terribly scared over at least half of it. But she worked with it and prayed over it and all traces of it went away. M. Vee's foot was turned inward. I don't know if this was the fault of the doctor or not, but she wore a brace for years.
|The Grahams after church 1926|
"Guess what, Fan, everyone thinks I'm Shell's wife because we're always together at church." She was a hateful person... still is! Mother must have been ready to murder. Meanwhile I guess Daddy was enjoying being the man of the house, treasurer and trustee at Plymouth, with a good job, a good wife and money accumulating in the bank for a home of his own someday. Mother should have had a sign on the wall. Life is what's happening while you're making other plans. Mershell Jr. was born in 1921 at Dunbar Hospital with a different doctor.
Boy children are very important to some people and they were both pleased to have a son. When Mershell Jr. was killed, run over by a truck on his way to school in 1927, it was a great unhappiness for them. I remember standing beside Mother at the front door and a big white policeman stood on the front porch and told her about her child. She did not scream, cry or faint. Daddy was at work. She could not reach him. She put on her hat and coat and went to the hospital. I never saw her helpless. She always did what had to be done.
|Doris, Howard, Mary V. & Fannie 1931|
She used to play games with us... catch and keep-away and checkers. And when we had friends to the house she would ask them to dinner or it was evening make a pile of sandwiches and a pitcher of punch (fruit juice and Kool-Aid). She let us roll back the rug and dance to our phonograph records. And she carried on a running battle with Daddy so she could do all this. He remembered that she could not got anywhere, not even to young people's meeting at church, or entertain at home without a chaperon present. I don't know how old she was before this stopped. Besides he knew all those boys were up to no good. I think she saw what Jennie T. had done to Daisy and Alice and almost to her with this attitude and she didn't think it was so good.
After we married and left home she developed arthritis and went to church or to visit friends less and less often. In 1967 (I remember because it was the year of the riot) she began to stop eating and gradually to stop cooking. Louis could find nothing wrong so she took iron and vitamins and cod liver oil to improve her appetite but nothing helped. Then Louis said she had to stay upstairs and not cook or do anything until she gained some weight. She had had the flu and lost more weight. (Incidentally this was the first time in her life she had penicillin... in fact, the only time.) She seemed to just give up. She hated to have Alice cooking and taking care of her house and I think she felt completely useless and helpless. She gradually acted more and more withdrawn and displaced. But I don't believe she was senile. Read the letter she wrote to Daddy when he was in the hospital in 1973. She wrote it all by herself. I think she would have been different in old age if she could have been surrounded by children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren like in the old days. She would always have had something to do then.
|Fannie with great grandaughter Jilo 1971|
The day she had her first stroke, I came home from school to find Alice, Browning and Mother sitting at the card table in the living room playing bingo. Mother was not really playing. They were playing her card for her. She was acting like she didn't know what was going on. I sat and talked awhile and somewhere (as a body will do!) mentioned white folks and how they mess over black children. She sat up, straightened her back and made the above speech with variations. She cussed them good and ended with her favorite story about the drummers in the store and how she forced them to address her as Miss Fannie or Miss Turner. I think she loved to repeat this story because it gave her a feeling of power. She demanded respect from our white neighbors, too, but in a less dramatic, less direct way. She kept them at their distance by never being familiar or warm or relaxed with them. Friendly, generous, kind, polite...she was all these. But she never had a cup of coffee with them and never went into their houses.
In the south when she was out in public she worried about being mistaken for white. She got on the bus once, sat in the 'colored section', and was told by the driver to move and sit in the right place. She told him she was in the right place and he told her not make trouble and go sit in the white section. She did, ashamed at what her friends would think of her (passing) and frightened at what white folks might do to her.
One day she and a friend who was equally light went for a day to shop in Wetumka. They were in a carriage and when it stopped for them to alight, a "courtly' white elderly gentleman hastened to take one on each arm and escort them to the curb where he raised his hat to them and gave a deep bow. Mother was horrified. She knew they could be lynched or worse if someone who knew they were black told the man and he had to defend his “honor”. Her friend thought it was all very amusing.
|Mary V., Fannie, Doris backyard Detroit 1936|
She was a great one for duty, for doing what was called for and not complaining. You could tell she was displeased by the expression on her face. Whenever she corrected us, she always explained why, so we came pretty early to know what was expected of us and when we erred the displeased expression was all we needed. She didn’t nag either. No second and third warnings. Yet I don’t remember ever being spanked by either parent. If either one said, “Did you hear what I said?”, that did it. We never talked back to them. We did things we knew we weren’t supposed to do like all children, but we were careful not to get caught. When we did get caught, we were horrified. I never felt confined and resentful, but M. Vee did.
Mother never took a day off, never went on a vacation, never had us cook dinner. Her days off came only when she had a “sick headache”, a terrible headache with upset stomach which kept her in bed usually for a day. I think she demanded a great deal of herself and could only let her “duty” slide if she were ill. The headaches only happened two or three times a year.
Mother had some of the same reserve with us that she had with strangers. We rarely talked about feelings, good or bad. She and Daddy tried to keep things as even and calm as possible all the time. So everybody cried alone although you always knew they would do anything for you because they did. You didn’t bring your problems home and share them. You came home and found the strength to deal with those problems. At least I did. If you needed help, you asked for it, but first you did everything you could. I don’t think they ever said no to either of us when we asked for help and that extended to grandchildren too.
Somehow after all these pages I don’t think I’ve really told about Mother. Maybe it’s because I am too involved in my feelings about her. Anyway, it’s the best I can do now. I’ll try again whenever I think of something.