Our calls usually never lasted longer than 15 minutes.
But whenever I would ring my 89-year-old auntie and ask her about Detroit back in the day…
The Detroit of glory years when she moved from Locust Grove, Georgia to the big city in 1943, she could chat for hours.
“Baby, Detroit was the place to be,” she would tell me.
And just like that, her memory – laser sharp unless you asked her what she had for supper the day before – would transport her back to the time of her youth:
The Black Bottom.
Federals Department store downtown.
Even the many jobs she once held as the lead accountant in a swanky Jewish resale shop and as a Rosie Riveter girl building tanks in plants during the war.
Through Auntie – that’s what I called her because my mother only had a brother (deceased) and she was really my great-grandmother’s sister – I learned more about the Detroit I never knew than i ever would have researching on my own.
In the 30s and 40s, Detroit for most folks – not unlike my family who followed my granny ala Harriet Tubman up north in search of a better life – was the urban oasis of opportunities.
Not all of the Motor City’s streets, though, were paved in gold.
And without fail, whenever I would broach the sensitive subject of my grandmother…How she dodged the light and stumbled down dark back alleys, Auntie would always have to check her dinner in the oven.
You see, Grandma was her sweet baby. The little girl she helped raise when her sister, my Granny, moved up North to get situated. Period.
And Auntie, her skin tingling from me getting too close to uncovering the family secret of my grandmother’s former drugging, boozing, locked-up days would start complaining that her pot roast was burning.
Respectively, I would joke that I wished I was there to eat with her and drink some of her “too good for kids” lemonade. We’d say, “I love you,” and I’d promise to call again next Sunday.
Months after Auntie died, I remember reaching for the phone to call her. I was even dialing before I glanced at the clock and realized…
It was supper time.
Time to put my own dinner in the oven.