A year later, Baby Heather had graduated from the fruit basket to the booster seat. One day we were all piling into the car, and just as I was about to lift all 22 pounds of her up to the booster seat, I noticed that the small soft dolly that never left her side wasn’t there, so I left her standing on the floor of the backseat and went to fetch it. When I returned, she had climbed up and sat down where she belonged all by herself. I’ve often heard mothers say they thought changing diapers would never end, but that wasn’t as hard for me as the lifting and carrying. On the day my last baby took her place on her own, I thought to myself, “I’m going to make it.”
My days were filled with all the tasks required to sustain a family of six–child care, cooking, cleaning and lots of laundry. And since I didn’t drive, unlike mothers of today who spend much of their time in the car taking their kids places, that was all I did.
I had not gotten my license when I was sixteen like most of my friends. A month after my birthday I’d been a passenger in a car driven by a new driver and we’d skidded off the road on a snowy night. No one was hurt but it scared my parents and they asked me to wait until I was older, and I had so many other things going on—earning good grades, singing in the chorus and giving piano lessons—that it wasn’t a big deal.
In my senior year not being able to drive to school might have been a drag, but my cousin, Louie, came to live with us after he was discharged from the Navy. He drove a corvette and liked showing it off, and I liked being chauffeured by a handsome guy with a hot car. When we’d pull up in front of my high school with the top down, everyone would gawk first at the car, then at Louie and finally at me as I nonchalantly untied the scarf around my windblown hair. It was the only time in my life I felt as cool as Annette Funicello.
People! flung wide and far, born into toil, struggle, blood and dreams ... the loved and the unloved, the lonely and abandoned, the brutal and the compassionate—one big family hugging close to the ball of Earth for its life and being.
I arrived in Washington late afternoon with just enough time to go visit the Phillips Collection, where all 60 panels of Jacob Lawrence’s The Migration Series have been reunited in celebration of the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture on the Mall. The series tells the story of the mass movement of African Americans from the rural South to the urban North between the first and second world wars. I had seen the odd numbered panels at the Phillips before, and the even numbered ones at Museum of Modern Art in New York, but never taken every step of the journey with the artist’s stark images and narrative captions.
As I moved around the perimeter of the room from one 12 x 18 inch panel to the next, the scenes of overflowing railroad stations, crowded trains, bleak tenement rooms, abandoned fields, blazing foundries, menacing Southern landowners and mercenary Northern labor agents erased all other thoughts from my mind. By the time I stepped away from the last panel, captioned, “And the migrants kept coming,” the poverty and oppression I’d been immersed in made the elegance of the gallery I stood in seem unreal.