It was early in the morning she was calling my cousins Kimberly, and Timberly to get up, and come down stairs, to do what? I don’t know. As I laid in the bed under the sheets, I was trying to figure out what she was calling them to come clean. Clean what? I said to myself, for you could eat off her floors, and their was nothing in her house that seemed to be out of place. A few moments later my name was called, as I knew it would be, so when in Rome you do what the Romans do. I got myself up, put my feet on the floor, and took my happy hips down the stairs even though I was not quite awake, and sleepy was still on me, and not sure what my aunt was calling me to do.
I had not been to aunt Kitty’s house since I was a child, and had only seen her periodically throughout the years at family gatherings.
The year was 1984, and I just graduated from high school when her
son Graylin came to Michigan to participate in a basketball camp, or something like that at Eastern Michigan University which was right up the street from our house.
I will never forget the day when Graylin stopped by to visit my mother, he was on his way home to Peoria, and decided to see his aunt Tressie before heading back. When he came to the door, I was wearing a pair of blue jean bell bottoms, a light blue tank top with pink rollers in my hair. I did not remember or know who Graylin was but heard a lot about him through the stories my mother would tell about him when he was a child.
While sitting there listening to the conversation with Graylin, and my mother he decided to pop the question “ Do you want to go home with me” I was so glad he asked because I was trying to get out of dodge seeing that I had just graduated from high school the day before and I was so excited about finally being free from school. That same day I called my job to let them know I was going to be gone for a few weeks, I packed my grip, and early the next morning I was on my way to Peoria, Illinois.
The road trip with Graylin was so much fun I felt like I was riding around on the highway with this big lovable teddy bear in the car. He took such good care of me making sure I had everything I needed and bought me whatever I wanted.
When we got into Illinois we started driving through these corn fields in the country, the window was down, and I was hanging out the window with my head, and arms stretched out wide, as the air hit my face, it was such a joyous and exhilarating experience.
As we pulled up to my aunts house there was this two-story brick home with white pillars in the front, that sat next door to a small church. When I entered the house I could feel the love, warmth and welcoming of my mothers sister.
Her house was like a mausoleum, it was quiet, and yet it spoke volumes to who my aunt was, telling its own story.
Here she was in her castle, running things by herself, for she was a widow with a daughter in high school, a daughter in college who was home for the summer, and two-adult children living out their lives, while still being a support to their mother.
Isadora (Kittye) Mc Leod was a classy woman, and every bit of a southern belle living in the city to me. Although she had moved out of Mississippi or the Deep South as some would say, the south was not out of her, and all that was instilled in her from home she took it with her when she embarked upon a new life with her husband, and first born child to Illinois.
I had never seen a woman so put together when she got up in the morning or when she went out in public. Everything about her from her head to her toe seemed to be in place regardless if she was wearing shorts or a Sunday dress to church. She simply had an etiquette about doing things meaning “ a customary code of polite behavior in society or around a certain group of people.” She simply believed that there was a way of doing things in a manner of respect, and order.
The whole time I was at my aunts house I never saw her get up and not get dressed. In fact, she was up, and about before the sun came up. This was her time to herself to pray, and gather her thoughts before her children awoke, and take care of what she needed to in the home, and prepare for her day.
One morning I had gotten up early because I could hear my aunt moving around, and I wanted to sit and talk with her awhile, it was still dark outside, she was sashaying around the house in some silk satin pajamas pants, with a satin camisole, and a kimono like house coat that came just above the knees, with some glass heeled slippers with white fur balls on top like something you would see in a Hollywood movie scene. I am not sure if she had make-up on or not but her hair was laid, not one strand of her head was out of place.
Kat, as my mother would call her was born in 1923 at a time when women would go out of the house dressed even if they went to the grocery store or the supermarket. Women wearing beautiful hats were common in the south because of the heat, and a woman's dress was not complete without it. Hand bags, gloves, pearls or matching jewelry along with closed toe heels were eminent accessories. In the days in which my aunt came clothing was a form of status and told a lot about the family to which one belonged, and garnered a certain level of respect. The clothes in her day spoke to every bit of a woman's femininity, and womanhood as time changed so did her clothes but she always remained a refined woman.
Early memories of my aunt, and her attitude towards clothing started when I was a young girl. One year my family was in Mississippi visiting my grand-parents or attending a family reunion, I cannot remember which one. Me, and my cousins where in the front yard playing. I can remember us wanting her daughters to come play with us, but she would not let them for they were well dressed. As kids we did not understand why they could not play with us at the time seeing that all the kids where playing together. On that day my aunt Kittye arrived to the house with my aunt Leo, she had on all white just like the day my grandmother died. She came to the funeral in a two piece white suit, and hat, she was sugar sharp even at 65, she was still shapely, and her clothes fit her to a T. To me she walked, and talked like royalty.
A few years ago my cousin Mia, and I decide to visit aunt Kittye seeing that she was now in her eighties. At the time I was living in Toledo, Ohio, and Mia was in Hammond, Indiana. I met Mia in Hammond, and we journeyed on to Peoria.When we arrived, my aunt was waiting in her apartment window like a little kid, she was just as excited as we were about being there. She was still living by herself, and, getting around quite well. In fact she had cooked dinner for us, we had a good old fashion southern meal. There was corn bread she made in a cask iron skillet, greens, roast beef with mash potatoes and gravy, a choice of Kool Aid, or ice tea that we drunk out of her long stem wine glasses. The table was beautiful with a flower centerpiece, table cloths, and table runner, China plates, cups, and saucers, and glass ware along with cloth napkins that she had placed in some beautiful napkin holders. Everything on the table was well organized, and colored coordinated.
She had two bedrooms that were immaculate, and the covers on the bes were turned back like we were in a hotel room my aunt went to great lengths to make sure we were comfortable. She was rather funny to me because she thought she was going to sleep on the couch, while we slept in the beds not so. The time we spent with her was priceless. Here we was my cousin, and I staying up late in our pajamas with our eighty something year old aunt like we were having a pajama party. It was amazing to see how flat her stomach was at her age. We started talking to her about it and, she told us the trick to having a flat stomach was wearing girdels, she never goes without wearing one.
After staying up late chatting with my aunt we arose the next morning with breakfast already prepared, and her dressed for she was going to take us shopping, to see the area, and do lunch. Keep in mind my aunt has never had a drivers license, and does not drive. But she was going to make sure we got to the mall, and was going to eat at a nice restaurant. She really just did not want us to do anything for her, she just wanted to be a blessing to us, and that she was. My aunt has this book of drivers that she would call to take her where she wanted to go when her children where unavailable.
Time spent with aunt Kittye was a time of transparency she gave us her take on education for she was a former pre-school teacher, family for she was a foster care mother, a mother, grandmother, and widow. She shared her feelings about our mothers, and gave us much insight to what is was like being raised with them.
When I asked about how she came to live in Peoria, she told me her and my uncle Sammy came their because of some of his family members lived their as well as some of her cousins, and what they thought were better job opportunities for this was the time of the “Great Migration” where many African Americans was living the rural south however, my aunt said something so profound to me, she stated that they would have been better off if they had stayed in Mississippi for they encountered things they never experienced before, faced with situations they knew nothing about.
Isadora (Aunt Kittye) is now ninety-five years old, and when ever she calls, and I answer the phone she always tells me how she loves me, and my siblings, and how thinks about us all the time, and how she prays for us For there is no greater gift than the gift of prayer.
In retrospective my aunts satin pants represented the delicate, and soft side of her, as well as how intricately woven she was. Her clothing presented her strength, durability, resilience, and the comfortability she had with herself, and self image for she believed in self-care.
Those glass slippers represented her transparency that provided a voice that was often not heard, understood, or even appreciated.
But for me she will always be that aunt who came from royalty that was apart of the “Red Hat Society“, gave her self in prayer, dedicated her life to her family, pushed education, and independence, wore satin pants, and glass slippers.