“The Happiest Part of My Life is Just Helping”
A Visit with Mrs. Adelaide Hand
Adelaide Hand was 102 years old when I interviewed her in September of 1996. What must it be like, I wondered, to look back on a century of memories? In 1894, when she began her life journey, horses and mules ruled the roads, their slow, plodding nature keeping daily life to a manageable pace. Through the years she watched as speeding automobiles gradually replaced four-footed transportation and paved roads and superhighways wound their smooth, gray ribbons across the landscape. She began a life of service to others while she was still a child, attending national events that spawned the Civil Rights movement and becoming acquainted with Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Dubois, Mary McLeod Bethune, and other famous black leaders of the day. She lived through two world wars – first, the war that was said to be “the war to end all wars” and then World War II, which brought human suffering to levels surpassing even that of the previous conflict.
She saw thousands of the young men who had survived World War I die during the 1918 influenza epidemic, and accompanied many of them home to their grieving families. To escape her sadness, she briefly turned to library work, but found it too quiet and dull. Instead, she turned her attention to creating elegant wedding gowns based on the latest Paris fashions and designing fabric art for Sears & Roebuck, Carson Pirie Scott, and other well-known retailers. She married, but was widowed in 1965. She took in two homeless boys who became dear to her and after she outlived them, she kept close contact with their surviving wives and children. But of all her many ventures, her proudest connection was with Linden Center, a gathering place for the city’s African American community that was founded by Captain R. H. Mallory in 1928. When I met with her she was still managing her senior citizens, many of whom had not yet been born when she reached adulthood. As we talked, she spoke happily of her ongoing work with her seniors, while fretting over the painful arthritis that stiffened her fingers and kept her from sewing the fabric flowers that had been her special joy. Her greatest regret was that she would not live to see a woman president – after all, she said, women were smarter than men! She died at the age of 104, leaving behind the community she loved and the precious legacy of a life well-lived.
Interviewer: Could you tell me a little about yourself?
Mrs. Hand: [My name is] Adelaide Hand.
Interviewer: And when were you born?
Mrs. Hand: May 5, 1894
Interviewer: And where were you born?
Mrs. Hand: Aurora, Illinois.
Interviewer: And who were your parents?
Mrs. Hand: William and Lillian Moore.
Interviewer: And where were they born?
Mrs. Hand: My mother was born in Aurora, Illinois, and my father was born near Clarksville, Tennessee, but he came to Aurora when he was four years old.
Interviewer: What did your father do?
Mrs. Hand: My father worked for a man in a grocery store. He was a butcher. Worked in a grocery store for thirty-two years. When I was born, he was driving the streetcar. The streetcars were horse-drawn, and he was driving that streetcar when I was born. Seven dollars a week.
Interviewer: Did you have brothers and sisters?
Mrs. Hand: I have one brother, Dr. Bernon Moore. He’s a dentist in Milwaukee.
Interviewer: And how and when did you come to Dayton?
Mrs. Hand: Well, I met my husband at a party in Chicago, and he was a Dayton man and he came over to Chicago to study medicine. [My] friend was a doctor and I was a social worker and she invited me to a party and I met him.
Interviewer: So you were a social worker?
Mrs. Hand: Yes, I’m a social worker.
Interviewer: Where did you go to school?
Mrs. Hand: I graduated from the Chicago School of Citizen Philanthropy. Finally, Chicago University took it over. And I went a quarter to Minnesota University. And I wanted to be a missionary and I went to Moody Bible Institute. I wanted to be a missionary. I wanted to have a chance to go to Africa, but my mother was ill and she didn’t want me to go because she said she would die before I got back so I didn’t go. I’m glad I didn’t because she did die. And so then I went into social work which is the same thing only on a scientific basis. When I graduated, I went to the Chicago School of Citizen Philanthropy and I had the privilege of having Jane Addams as my teacher. That woman had started the Hull House in Chicago and she was so sweet.
Interviewer: So did you work in any of the settlement houses?
Mrs. Hand: I was a caseworker for the American Red Cross, the Chicago Chapter, and during World War I, I was getting ready to go overseas when the Armistice was signed. And then I stayed here and worked with soldiers and sailors. Well, then I stayed in Chicago and then after I married, I came to Dayton. And then when I came to Dayton, I wanted to work free – my husband wouldn’t let me work anyplace as long as he lived. And then after he died, Montgomery County Community Action Agency, I don’t know what it was called, they set up a place on Fifth Street and Mr. McLin was a good friend of mine and he wanted me to go down there and take charge and work there. When he lived [she is referring to her husband] he wouldn’t let me go. So after he died, I went with another girl to get a job and they wouldn’t give her a job and they gave me the job. So I took the job and I worked down there – I worked down there through the program – I worked with the MCCAA for eight years. I did family case work, filed, I did everything.
And then I stayed down there, we were down at Fifth and Hawthorn at that time. Then when they moved over to Shawen Acres, I didn’t want to go down there so I went over to Linden Center. Stayed there eight years.
Interviewer: When was that?
Mrs. Hand: 1969 I think it was. And I was walking distance. All I had to do was walk a couple blocks. I lived on Hawthorn Street just around the corner from Fifth Street from the other job. I was lazy. I didn’t want to ride the buses. And I just walked down to Linden Center. I was always down there anyway. And so I just worked for them and stayed down there and took charge of the seniors. And I’ve had charge of them ever since.
Interviewer: It’s a wonderful facility.
Mrs. Hand: Uh-huh, I’ve had many a good time down there. When I first came down here – I first came to Dayton in – I guess it was into the thirties – in about forty. I had a friend that was in charge of the seniors over there and I joined up with her right away. And then she got sick and couldn’t go and she had me take charge of them and I’ve had charge ever since.
I moved down here in the thirties and I stayed two years and then we moved back to Chicago. Then I moved back down here in ’47. My husband’s mother took sick and we had to move back down. His father got killed and we had to move back down in ’47. And I been here since ’47.
Interviewer: What was Dayton like when you came here?
Mrs. Hand: It was a booming town. During the war there was so many [people]. Fifth Street was day all night. Busy, busy, busy! And I made artificial flowers and I had a booming business.
Interviewer: What was the business?
Mrs. Hand: I made artificial flowers and table decorations. I’m a graduate of Dennison Craft. And then, I did finish a course in recreation to run a center. And after I graduated, they wanted to send me some place in Pennsylvania, and I didn’t want to go that far from home. It’s silly how people can be so choicy! And I didn’t want to go. Then I got into library work. But I didn’t like library work. It was so quiet and dull. I stayed in library work for a couple years. I stayed in library work in Chicago and then I went up to Minneapolis. My family lives, most of them, in Minneapolis.
And then I went up there and worked in the library. And it got so cold. I’ll never forget one night, I worked in the library and I had charge of a branch up there, and I had to catch that last bus from Minneapolis – I was staying in St. Paul and worked in Minneapolis. And when we got as far as Fort Snelling, it was 11 o’clock at night, 25 below zero, snow to your waist. And I can hear that man as long as I live say, “This is as far as we go. You’ll have to wait for another bus to come through.” I said, “Lord, if you let me get back to Illinois, I’ll never come back again!” And I stayed home for a long time then.
Interviewer: About when was this you were a librarian in Minneapolis?
Mrs. Hand: Oh, it’s when my cousin was born. He told me the other night he was seventy-five years old. I don’t know. I can’t remember what year it was. I remember him saying he was seventy-five and he was a little fellow. My aunt was widowed. Her husband died and left her with little children and I went up to stay with her. I loved the northwest though.
Interviewer: What did you like about it?
Mrs. Hand: I don’t know it was just – I like the atmosphere. And I love the out-of-doors. And I love to fish and I just love it up there. I’ve been going up to St. Paul/Minneapolis every year since I been a little girl. My uncle lived up there; then he became deputy sheriff out in Portland, Oregon for years and years. I like the northwest. I guess I’ll never get back up to St. Paul. I haven’t been up there since ’82 when I came through from California – I stopped over in St. Paul.
It’s beautiful up there. Everybody goes outdoors – every couple blocks there’s a skating rink. Everybody skates. Everybody lives outdoors. Everybody’s so healthy-looking. It’s a Swedish town. People that live outdoors. I like it. I have quite a few relatives up there now. I only have one full cousin, first cousin, and he lives in St. Paul now. There’s a second, third cousin up there. He just loves it. He won’t leave it to visit.
Interviewer: When you were working at Linden Center, did you ever know Captain Mallory? [Captain Robert Mallory was an African American civic leader who founded Linden Center in 1928].
Mrs. Hand: No, he had gone when I came here. My husband told me so much about him. My husband used to do lots of social work here. My husband used to teach psychology and philosophy over to Wilberforce, and he used to do lots of social work here and he knew Mr. Mallory. I know all the Dayton history I know because he used to just talk about Dayton and the flood day after day after day. And he’d tell me about Mr. Mallory. My husband’s people sold that land – they owned the land where Linden Center is – and they sold that land to Linden Center to build the center. They lived across the street on Pease Street. And my mother-in-law refused – they couldn’t get her out of there when the flood came in ’13 and they had to take her out the bedroom window upstairs on the lattice. She wasn’t going to leave her house. And then they bought up on Hawthorn Street. They had to go out to the Soldiers’ Home and stay. That’s where they took them all. Then they bought on Hawthorn Street and we stayed on Hawthorn Street ‘til we moved out here. [She lived in another West Dayton neighborhood, but I no longer recall where].
Interviewer: When did you move out here?
Mrs. Hand: I’ve been out here ten years in September.
Interviewer: You were down on Hawthorn until then?
Mrs. Hand: Um-hmm. My mother-in-law’s been dead since ’47, and my husband was the only child.
Interviewer: He grew up here?
Mrs. Hand: Um-hmm. Born here and graduated Ohio State. He had his PhD from California. I forget what school in California. Oh, he went to school all the time. All the time we was married, when we lived right near the campus in ___ university, he was always going to school. His mother wanted him to be – oh, she was a very, very ambitious woman. She finished grade school after he was born. She was the oldest, I think, of about three or four children. She was from Springfield and her mother put her down here to work. But I forget how much she got paid a week. And anyhow, her mother gave her a dollar out of what she earned. The rest of it went to support the family. And she was a very ambitious person and just went to night school even after that and she was head of several clubs here. You never would have known that she had limited schooling. And she tried to make him everything that she wanted to be, and that’s how he got sent to Chicago. He went over there to be a doctor. And he got over there too late. There wasn’t any place for him.
And then he got in the insurance business. And then he took up law. And he had just a little bit to go to finish law. I don’t why he didn’t finish that law. He did lots of work. He did ‘cause his head was in a book all the [time]. Oh, he had a marvelous library. I got rid of most of it when I moved out here.
Interviewer: So what did he do after law school? You said he didn’t finish?
Mrs. Hand: No, he didn’t finish. He worked for the newspaper there and in insurance. He always stayed with the insurance, and after he came back here he had a nice job out at the Field [Wright Patterson Air Force Base.] He stayed out there until he had to give up ‘cause he was sick.
Interviewer: Did he work for the Dayton Forum? [An influential African American newspaper].
Mrs. Hand: He worked for the Dayton Forum for years. The Reeves were so lovely to him. I think they were the first people I met when I moved to Dayton. My husband brought me down here as a bride. I think they were the first people I met when I came down. They owned the Forum. He was publisher of the Forum.
Interviewer: Did your husband have a special idea of what purpose the newspaper served in the community? The Forum always seemed to have a really strong sense of mission to it.
Mrs. Hand: Yes, he did. And then he wrote for the [Dayton] Daily News up ‘til he died. He had a column there. He wasn’t as strong politically as I was though. I don’t know where I got that – from a little kid up. And we never knew who our father voted for. He’d vote, but nobody ever knew who he voted for. And nobody ever knew who my mother voted for. And I used to work so hard. And I couldn’t vote, you know, when women got the vote. I was a woman, but I just worked from a kid on up. Oh, I worked so hard in front of those polls.
I don’t know where I got it from. My mother never bothered anybody. She went to church and went to her mother’s and that was the end of it. And I was all over town. My brother’s the same way. My brother would go to the fraternity meeting and work with his patients and he never bothered anybody else. But I knew everybody from miles around.
Interviewer: Going into social work at that time – that was pretty unusual in the period that you were raised, to go and have professional training like that for a woman.
Mrs. Hand: Um-hmm. I don’t know why. I tell you when I was little I always wanted to be an architect. And there weren’t any women…and they said, “No, no! There’s no women architects.” No women for anything when I came along. And way back then, my mother had finished high school and she’d finished music. She was the organist for our church.
My father finished eighth grade. He was the head of a family of nine and he had to quit school to help support the family. His father died. But he got a good education in the business where he worked ‘cause those days, he’d take groceries to people. And maybe one family in the country would buy two or three hundred dollars’ worth of groceries. Everybody lived out. And he’d deliver all those groceries. I’ll never forget, he’d come home and bring all that money and we’d sit down on the floor and the kids would count it all over the weekend and he’d have to take it and turn it in.
And my mother took so much time with my brother and I. We knew our times tales, we knew our ABC’s and everything before we went to school. I should have taken up something more with math because I was an expert mathematician. And I skipped a couple grades which I shouldn’t have. My brother was a poor mathematician. We didn’t think he was going to get to college ‘cause he had the worse trouble passing arithmetic he needed to get into college. He’s a graduate of Marquette in Milwaukee. But he finally got it to go to college. But he was a good student in everything – he made me these teeth that I’m wearing now.
Interviewer: It sounds like you were pretty energetic and focused all the way through school.
Mrs. Hand: I was always in something. I was always active. And I’m from a small town. Our church had about seventy members. I’ve taught Sunday school ever since I was twelve years old. And I was secretary of the church – you know, when there’s only one or two to do something, you’re busy doing something all the time. And then my mother belonged to a club and they sent me downtown to meet the lady, Miss Elizabeth Davis. The big settlement house in Chicago is named for her. And she was gonna speak to the club one day. My mother’s club sent me downtown – we had an interurban train between Aurora and Chicago – to meet her. And I went down to meet her and took her to the lady’s house where the meeting was to be. The lady was a very dear friend of my mother.
Now this lady had a daughter my same age, and her daughter didn’t care anything about going to anything like that I liked. But she went to everything. And when she’d go to conventions, Sunday school conventions, she’d take me. But her daughter never cared for those things. So anyhow, I stayed and helped wait table. So when they elected a secretary (now they were all my mother’s age), they elected me as secretary. And some of them thought it was terrible. She said, “No, she’s got a good mind, she [ought to be secretary]. And they did.
Interviewer: How old were you?
Mrs. Hand: Oh, I was just out of school. Or was I out of school? And they affiliated with everything in Chicago. In those days we could go back and forth to Chicago for seventy-five cents. And everything that happened in Chicago, we went. And they had the Sanhedrin Court – of all the great Negro minds. I knew Booker T. Washington, W. E. B. DuBois, I knew all those people personally. They come to Chicago a couple times a year for a meeting. And we used to go into all the meetings. And Miss Bethune, I was her private secretary. [She is referring to Mary MacLeod Behune, a well-known African American educator and civil rights leader and later an advisor to Franklin D. Roosevelt].
All the great colored men and women I’ve had the privilege of meeting ‘cause everybody came to Chicago. That’s one thing I loved about living in Aurora. I can’t stand Chicago, but Chicago gives you something that no place else gives you. And I had friends, and I had a girl that was secretary for one of the big insurance companies there. You know how they buy tickets and give them to their help? And she had tickets for everything so I got to go to everything that was anything in Chicago, white or colored. And she’d always take me. I have been so very fortunate in my life that way. And we went and just had good times. I got to go to everything.
Interviewer: So what inspired you to go into social work?
Mrs. Hand: Every since I was little girl, I always wanted to do something for somebody. I’d take people bouquets of flowers that was no more than a bouquet of dandelions when I was a little bit of a girl. And when I got bigger the boys – my mother never allowed us to accept any presents from any boys or anybody – only candy or [unintelligible] – that’s all I could ever accept. And when the boys would bring me candy – everybody knew I loved candy – and I’d get maybe three or four boxes of candy and then I’d divide it up and we had about six or seven old ladies and I’d take it to them.
And we had a poor farm out in Batavia, Illinois. We didn’t have no welfare nor nothing when I come along. And young, old, and everybody else went up to that poor farm, and you had to go up on the streetcar, then walk about three or four miles after you got off. And I’d always go up there with the preacher or whoever went up there to see those people. And from a little girl, it always struck me, it always hurt me to see people in want. And I said, “Well, they would never catch me!” And my grandmother’s father was a Scotchman. And she always used to tell me, “Never earn any dollar that you don’t save a dime of it.” And I think it kind of grew up in me to never spend anything.
So I did – I always wanted to help somebody. And I just went into it, and it’s been the happiest part of my life is just helping. But I think I’ve helped more people after I left being a social worker.
After I gave up casework, I been gifted with a gift for designing. I can design more anything. I can make all my own clothes. I never had to use a pattern. And flowers. I can create most anything. And I was head of a factory and I had about 300 girls in there. But the training that I received helped me to handle those girls, and I think I got closer and was able to do more missionary work with them just being a social worker than had I been a missionary. The word “missionary” might have scared them. [I believe this was during her time in Chicago].
It’s the same way with my seniors now. I have to do everything. You’d be surprised at the hundreds of different things I have to do for those people all the time. It’s “get this” or “get that” or “show me how to do this” – and that training has come in – it’s surprising how you plan on one thing and how you use that knowledge for something else. The other day [there were some] things we had to find and a woman said, “How did you do that so quick?” It’s just knowing how to find somebody. I just like to work with people.
Interviewer: Let me ask you a little bit about your work history again. After you graduated from school, what was your first job?
Mrs. Hand: My first job was a family caseworker for the American Red Cross [in Chicago].
Interviewer: How long were you there? And when?
Mrs. Hand: When was the armistice signed? 1918? I was there all that year. ‘Cause my mother was sick and I had to go home.
Interviewer: So you went back to Aurora at that time?
Mrs. Hand: Yes, I had to go back to my mother. And then I came back to Chicago. And I was doing casework some place. And then I went into the library for a couple years because casework got so heavy. I’m so sympathetic. Oh, I was working for them when the flu epidemic broke out in the camp – what’s that camp down in Rockwood, Illinois? I believe that’s Camp Grant down in Rockwood, Illinois.
The flu rose after the war. The flu broke out and they was just dying by the thousands down there. And it was my duty on this job to get those bodies and to send them to the families. We could take them home. [The government] would give us tickets one way but they wouldn’t give us a ticket coming back. I was always ready to run. But we’d have to pay our way back if we went down with the body. But we had to arrange for all those bodies to go home. And, oh, I did that for pretty much near a year and it got so morbid that I just couldn’t go on with it anymore. And that’s when I left. Oh, it was terrible the way those people were dying, just like flies, with the influenza. And that’s when I left and I went into library work.
Mrs. Hand: Yes, I just had to get out of it. And then I got a job working in commercial – I was designing pillows and bedspreads and flowers. I made far more money. And then I just stayed in the business world. I never went back into family casework anymore. I stayed in the business world and then went into business for myself. [I made] pillows and all kinds of flowers and ceramics – well, ceramics, I’ve done that since I’ve been here. But I make all kinds of flowers and table decorations. I graduated from Dennison’s. I have a diploma from Dennison’s – Dennison’s Crafts.
Interviewer: Was that here in Dayton?
Mrs. Hand: No, Chicago. They have a big art school in Chicago. I went there and I graduated from there. But when I was a little girl – I don’t believe I was in first, second grade – I’d just do all kinds of things. I made the most beautiful rug. St. Louis Exposition – that must have been in the early, early hundreds [1900s]. [She is referring to the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, better known as the St. Louis World’s Fair which was held in 1904]. And I made a rug and sent it to St. Louis – they never did send me my rug back. And you know, when I was going to school, I took geometry (I never did go any farther in mathematics than that), but I could go to sleep and I could just work on problems in my sleep. And designs and everything come to me in my sleep.
And I’ll never forget one night my aunt – my aunt was a doctor in Chicago – and she went away and stayed all night over to Gary [Indiana] and I was afraid to go to bed. I was all alone. And I sat up and made flowers all night long, and I created the prettiest flower – Sears & Roebuck had the picture in their catalog for about four years. And I made flowers for Marshall Field and Carson Pirie [Scott] and all of those stores. I helped make wreaths. I learned to do all that work.
Interviewer: When you were selling to all those big department stores, what years were you talking about?
Mrs. Hand: Well, I worked on all those things ‘til I came here. I mean ‘til I came to Dayton. I had my own business. I’d go on downtown and get a job during the busy season. They’d call me and I’d go down and work. [She talked about the Chicago Jewish businessmen dominating much of the design business]. And then I worked for another house over in the market district. They just made wedding gowns. And what he’d do [she is referring to a Jewish business owner she did work for], he’d get a copy of wedding gowns – they’d import gowns from far [away] – and they’d have me to copy the flowers off of these wedding gowns so they could reproduce them here. And I worked with a fellow and he used to beg me and beg me, he said, “Oh, you can make millions,” he said. “Why don’t you go to Europe? You don’t belong here. Why don’t you go over there?” He said, “I can fix it so you can go over.” And I said, “No, I’ll stay over here.”
Another Jewish man went – oh, he begged me to go. He said, “Oh, I’ll put up the money, I’ll put up everything. All you’ll have to do is the designing,” he says, “and manage the store. I’ll put up the money and everything if you just go in business with me.” But I didn’t.
I had a lovely little business of my own. I’ve had a lovely business since I been here. That’s what worries me now. I haven’t made a flower in over a year. And I could sell all I could make now if I could make them. And I got so much stuff – I said I was gonna get it down and try to teach somebody or give it away. I taught so many to make flowers and we used to just give it to one another, but everybody’s that made them is gone or not able to make them anymore. I can’t see and I can’t hardly use my [hands] – it’s wonderful therapy. I need to ‘cause I got arthritis in both of these fingers. I’m gonna have a cataract removed. Maybe when that’s gone I can…. There’s two things in the world that takes all my troubles away. There’s fishing and making flowers. I set up here night after night long making flowers.
Interviewer: How did you learn?
Mrs. Hand: It just came to me. I don’t know. It just came to me. I could sew. My mother was a beautiful dressmaker. But when I was little, she wouldn’t give me a needle. She used to put a thread on a pin. She tricked me. But I was pretty good size when she gave me a needle. And I could sew – I made all my own [clothes] – I never used a needle. I could make my coats. Ooh, the clothes, the clothes I used to have. And I liked to sew by hand. I have a beautiful sewing machine out there. I bought it the day we declared war on Germany.
Interviewer: So you stitch your flowers?
Mrs. Hand: No, I don’t stitch the flowers. There’s the one flower they stitch together now, but mine are all hand.
Interviewer: Are they silk?
Mrs. Hand: Silk – I make them out of silk. I make them out of ribbon. I make them out of cloth. [We stop for a while so that she can show me her flowers].
Mrs. Hand: He [her Jewish business associate] used to tell me, “You got a Jewish head on you.” He’d say, “Are you Jewish?” I’d say, “No, I’m not Jewish.”
Interviewer: That must have been a wonderful experience.
Mrs. Hand: I’ve had a beautiful life. A wonderful experience in life.
Interviewer: You said you were a Methodist. What church did you attend?
Mrs. Hand: Wayman A.M.E. on the corner of Leland and Hoover. A beautiful church.
[The conversation turned to a discussion of the recent Hurricane Fran].
Mrs. Hand: I’m scared to death of storms. When I was a kid, they always had to find my father. I thought my father could save me from anything in the world.
Interviewer: Fathers are like that.
Mrs. Hand: Oh, I didn’t think that there was anything on earth that could happen to me if my father was around. But I always was scared of storms. But I don’t know. Lately, I’m here alone, [but] I haven’t been afraid for some reason or another. I’d call somebody to stay with me if it was storming. I don’t know why I was so afraid of storms. We used to have awful storms in Illinois, and I’ll never forget, we was going to the circus one time, and we had a cyclone that just tore up that big tent and killed somebody at the circus.
Interviewer: That’s probably what you were so afraid of storms.
Mrs. Hand: Um-hmm. I wasn’t in it, but all my life I’ve been scared of them. That’s the only thing I’m scared of – that and a toad frog and a snake. I’m scared of everything that runs from me. And the first snake I ever seen I was sitting down – it went under me.
You know, I’ve had the funniest experience. I had a little cricket in here. You never heard nothin’ chirp as loud in your life as that little cricket. Ooooh! You could hear him all over this house – how he’d sing! And he’d follow me from room to room. I could everhim back in this corner. Wherever I’d go. So one night I was in the bathroom and he followed me. And I seen this little thing sitting there on this little piece of paper on the floor and I killed it. I didn’t know it was him and threw him in the toilet. And it must have been him ‘cause I never heard the singing. And I felt so sorry I cried. I missed him and his song so much.
And about a week after that I heard another one. But I don’t hear him anymore. I don’t know if I got him, too. But I never heard nothing in my life make the noise that little fellow made. So many funny things can get in your house. I made a funny little rustle the other night, and I was so scared. [I thought] “Oh, my goodness, a snake got in here or something.”
[At this point, I changed the tape, and some connecting conversation was lost].
Mrs. Hand: …I love the mountains and the kids wanted me to come to California. That’s the only reason I like to go out there. I love to look at the mountains. I wouldn’t want to climb one. I like to look at them.
Interviewer: Do you have children?
Mrs. Hand: No, I raised two boys. I took them from Shawen Acres when they were five or six years old. [Shawen Acres was a Dayton home for orphans or other children who could not live with their parents]. They’re both gone now. But their wives and granddaughters call me every week from California. They want me to come out and see them. I don’t want to go out there. I been out there six times. But I just love to go out there to look at the mountains.
[We go back to talking about her parents.]
Mrs. Hand: My mother was born in Aurora, and my father came from Clarksville, Tennessee.
Interviewer: How did they meet?
Mrs. Hand: They lived across the street from one another.
Interviewer: So he came up to Aurora when he was pretty young?
Mrs. Hand: He was four years old. My one grandmother lived right across the street from the other. Papa would come over to see her ‘cause I guess they went to school together. My mother’s father, he lived to be 108. [Some of this was unintelligible, but she talks about the fact that when her father came courting her mother, her father would only let him stay for a certain amount of time.] When it just began to get a little dark, everybody had to go home. And she said papa would go home and then write her letters and put them on the post so she could get them the next morning. And then I guess…how old was my mother when she got married? I guess she was twenty or twenty-one when she got married.
My grandpa – he fathered my youngest aunt when he was ninety-four years old. She was only six years older than I was. And, oh, that girl was so gifted in music. Never had a lesson and she played that organ – she could have made a fortune if she was living today. She could just make up all kinds of jazz songs and sing and play. Oh, you oughtaheard that child play! And she’d be playing and they’d be dancing, they’d just be having a ball. And they’d have one [child] sitting outside watching for my grandpa. And they’d have him sitting outside watching, seeing if he’d come down the street, and they’d be dancing and by the time he got down home, everything was just as quiet and there wasn’t a soul in that house but her. When he’d get down home, they’d all scatter ‘cause he’d had them all gone by the time he got there.
He was the funniest little old fellow. And I’ll never forget one time, he got so mad at her because she got a pair of black slippers with patent leather toes on them. Well, that was great to have a pair of shoes with patent leather toes. And, oh, he just fussed because she had patent leather toes. And he went out and got a whole pair of patent leather slippers. And he carried his money – you know what he used for a pocket book – those tobacco bags they used to buy tobacco in. Did you ever see those little cotton bags tied up with a string – you kept tobacco in them. Well, that’s what he used for his pocket book.
And every night, he used to go around junkin’. He had an old horse and wagon. The horse knew to take him, would take him where he was going. And he’d sit up every night counting his money and spilled as much on the floor as he put in the bag. He was the funniest fellow. Every night he’d tell us the same story. He would have been a big man, but he never was a slave out in the fields. He worked for a doctor, he drove for this doctor’s family. And he used to ride in the races. They stunted him to make a jockey out of him. And we had to listen to that every night. He was a funny soul.
He was an old man when my grandma married him. He run away from slavery from Kentucky, over to Cincinnati during slavery in the Underground Railroad. And he left a wife and five children in Kentucky. And then he went over there, and he was a very industrious person, and he went into business and married and had a wife and a son there. And he stayed there a number of years, and then he went to Chicago. And then when he went to Chicago, he went in business in Chicago and bought a home. And that’s how my grandma met him - grandma’s mother lived upstairs over him and his wife was a sickly woman, and my grandma was a little girl fourteen years old and she took care of the baby. And then when his wife died, he married her. And they had ten children. Beautiful children. I’m the only homely one of the whole family. They had ten of the most beautiful children you ever wanted to see. My mother’s brothers and sisters and all my cousins.
When I was a little girl, I had a cousin, oh, she’s pretty. And hateful, too, and they used to call me “ugly.” And, oh, how I would cry! And I had the sweetest grandmother, and I’d go to grandma and cry ‘cause Lily called me “ugly” and she said to me, “Never mind. Pretty is as pretty does. Beauty’s only skin deep, but ugly’s to the bone. You just act pretty and you’ll be pretty.” I’d go back thinking I was alright, and Lily would call me that again and I’d start out crying again. Kids are crazy! And she was that way ‘til she died. She was just as horrid as she could be. And her sister wasn’t good-looking like she was, but everybody in the world loved her sister. She was the sweetest thing ever lived. But Lily was always haughty. She always was pretty, but she was so haughty. I don’t know what made her like that!
Interviewer: I was going to ask you about Linden Center because I know you wanted to see it recognized for its historic significance. What about it is significant to you?
Mrs. Hand: I love Linden Center. Linden Center has touched the lives of all our great colored men that we have. Every one of them here in Dayton, I think has come through Linden Center. Every one of them has had some contacts with Linden Center. It’s meant an awfully lot to them. That and the “Y” [Y.M.C.A.] was the only thing they had. And, I don’t know, this “Y” we have now is kind of out of the way. I worked as hard in that “Y” as I did at Linden Center, but after it moved out, I got away from it.
I used to be head of the Old Timers’ “Y” and we used to meet in there all the time. Then I was on that board over to the “Y”. I was in Garden Class – we used to meet up to the YWCA, too, all the time. That was a beautiful building up on Summit Street. We had many a good time up there. It was a beautiful interior, beautiful. And we used to have a little barn down at the bottom and we’d go down there. We had many a good time. We don’t seem to have those good times like we used to have. Seems like all those people are gone.Something going on all the time. Most all the garden people are dead. One of the main ones died two or three months ago. That was a beautiful, beautiful building inside.
Interviewer: When did your husband pass away?
Mrs. Hand: 1965. He passed away before I moved out here. I don’t think I’d ever got him out here.
Interviewer: He really liked the old neighborhood?
Mrs. Hand: His father built that house. Every now and then he said, “Well, go ahead and look for a place and we’ll move. And then I’d go get a place and he wouldn’t go. That was his home – his mother and father’s home. And he said, “It’s home to me. Dad and I built this house. It’s home to me. Don’t mean to you what it does to me.” I guess it didn’t. It was a beautiful place. Oh, I had the prettiest living room! And the neighborhood went down so. All the oldtimers died and moved out and it just filled up with winos. And so he said he didn’t want to go. And then after he died I never moved away. And I never was bothered. I went away and stayed. I was in the hospital one time for I guess three weeks. I went to California and stayed. And I went away several times and stayed and nobody ever bothered my house. They never bothered me. They were just as nice to me as they could be and if they didn’t see me at a certain time, they’d come to see what was wrong with me. So I stayed ‘til I had to move when urban removal came in then I had to go.
Interviewer: And now they’re trying to build it back up.
Mrs. Hand: Yes, well, the lumber company took my place. Oh, I had such a beautiful yard. I used to spend a hundred dollars or more every year for flowers – oh, I had a beautiful yard. I love flowers. They just went in and dug up all that stuff. McLin lied to us ‘cause he said they was going to build houses there from $17,000 up and we could buy them back. That’s what he told us when he signed the property away. And he knew then the lumber company had the neighborhood. He knew right then and there they had it. I hope he got to heaven!
Rhine [McLin] was to our party Friday night. She looked so well. She’s nice. I’ve known her from [the time she was] a little bitty girl. I’ve known McLin for years. I knew his father for years. His father was so nice. He’d always stop by my house. If he didn’t stop, I could hear him toot that horn now when he’d go by. I didn’t know the mother. I knew McLin’s father. I knew Rhine’s mother. They weren’t together, but I knew her. Sister belongs to my church.
[Rhine] gave me that plaque [motions to a plaque on the wall] for my hundredth birthday. And [President] Clinton sent me this one for my birthday. My cousin has a friend that works in the White House. [Talks about the upcoming presidential election]. I wish I could live to see a woman president.
Interviewer: I think it will come in my lifetime.
Mrs. Hand: I guess in your life. It won’t in mine, but I wish it would. I think women lead these men anyway. …If it weren’t for the women we wouldn’t have any churches…. The Catholics are letting them in now. Not as priests, but they’re letting them have some high positions that they didn’t used to let them have. Women are smarter than men. I think they use better judgment than men do. Look what poor judgment that man did the other night when he let that woman, that prostitute ruin his life. His home life and his political life [was ruined]. [She was referring to the downfall of married Clinton presidential advisor, Dick Morris, caused by his relationship with Virginia call girl, Sherry Rowlands].
Interviewer: I saw him and his wife on the cover of “Time.”
Mrs. Hand: You know it hurt that woman. And if he’d been any kind of man, he wouldn’t have done that. He still could have had a relationship with her, but [not tell her] that business.
And every president we’ve had has been a woman chaser, from Roosevelt on down. Eisenhauer had ‘em in the White House, Roosevelt had ‘em in the White House. They all had ‘em. They’re all gonna do it as long as there’s a man and a woman. Ain’t no need of them lying over it, and then bringing up all this past history. What’s that got to do with it? It’s all over now. Get on with the present issues.
But, my God, those poor senior citizens, some of them don’t get enough to live on now. What are they gonna do? They couldn’t live. They hardly live now. [She was discussing proposed cuts to benefits]. A lot of those people didn’t earn anything hardly to get social security. I don’t know what’s the matter with men – what are they doing with all that money? They used to at least subsidize most of the month – now they haven’t given anything since last October. Where is it going? Where’s the money going? And they want the public to help give to these [food] pantries. They ain’t got money to furnish the pantries. They can ride around in all their fine limousines and get raises in their pay and run around to Europe and all over the country.
Let those people over there fight. They’ve been fighting since the beginning of time. They’re gonna still fight ‘til the end of time. Let them fight it out. It’s too bad. I feel sorry for them. I feel sorry for those people. Countries that have earthquakes and all those troubles – we’re supposed to help them. The Lord’s trying to tell people something with all these earthquakes and everything we’re having around the country. But people will never do right – they’ll never treat one another right. It just ain’t in them!