We called them Nanny and Granddad (Al) but their birth names were Ethel Bumpas and Alfonso Lomax. They were married September 7, 1932 in Shelby County, Tennessee. According to their marriage license they were seventeen and eighteen years old. This was the first public record I discovered when I started researching my family’s ancestry.
They were more than my great grand parents, they were a direct line to the past, to the beginning. To be in their presence was to be among the stars and knowing them was a priviledge. They say the egg that created you was formed inside of your mother’s fetus when she was inside your grandmother’s womb. Their existence and experience was a record of history and the embodiment of the American dream and nightmare.
They would leave the south with millions of other black folks during the height of the Great Migration, fleeing the violence and racial hatred of the South. They were sharecroppers, domestic and factory workers. They would move several times before settling in Cleveland, Ohio and buying their first home in the historic Glenville neighborhood. They started out north and lived in Indiana, Illinois and Ohio.
There was a sturdiness about them, a sure dependable constance. You knew that if trouble came knocking they could handle it with the quickness. When I would visit their home on Parmlee in Cleveland, Ohio I would sneak upstairs and peak inside their bedroom. There was a rifle that hung above their bed. I never heard them speak much about Tennessee or what they experienced when they lived there. I knew childhood friends who talked about traveling South for the summer but we never did. My grandmother, their only child would tell stories about her childhood in Tennessee. She told stories about lychings and a subversive cruelty that existed in whites and blacks. I looked at them with curious eyes. Who were these people and what horrors did they witness? I wanted to know more and understand what shaped their perception of the world around them and their place in it.
They cherished each other and their family. Nanny was a phenomenal cook and every Thanksgiving she would pull out real china, table cloth, cloth napkins and real silver. My mother says, “Nanny was a real woman, she made sure when us children stepped outside the house our clothes were pressed, our hair neat and we were clean.” Granddad still worked even when I was a kid. He didn’t say much he just went to work and came home to his wife.