52 Ancestors, week 5-in the kitchen

Memories of childhood, at times, center in the kitchen. For this prompt, I thought I would visualize my Great-Aunt Essie Houston Kitchen. She lived in a two-bedroom tenement on 140th Street up in Harlem, New York. We would visit her once a month after attending church services at the Transfiguration Lutheran Church on West 126th Street, also in Harlem. It was convenient to either walk or ride the bus about ten blocks. She lived in a walk-up, no elevator, apartment, on the top floor.

When you reached the 5th floor, the aroma of southern cooking just took over. As we entered Aunt Essie’s apartment, we would rush into the kitchen to see what was cooking. We were told to wash our hands and sit quietly. But we would sneak back into the kitchen, staring at her big pot-spoon and the long cigarette dangling on the side of her mouth.   The cigarette ashes seemingly never dropped. It was one of those intense moments in our young minds.  Aunt Essie was always focused on the preparation of the Sunday meal. I don’t think she noticed us until an adult would say,  “didn’t I tell y’all to go sit in the living room and don’t make me say that again.”   The aroma  coming out of that kitchen was so provoking.

The favorite part of the preparation was her Southern biscuits. She would set the ingredients on the countertop, rolling the dough on the flour-covered board to make the biscuits; I do not think any portion was measured as she formed the biscuits.   She would let us hand-form one or two of the biscuits.

Image result for picture of 1960 kitchen
Photo credit google images 1960 kitchen

Lots of love and care went into those special dishes. When the food was ready, we had to rewash our hands again, say the grace and then eat. During these times, the grownups talked about what was going on in their lives. I cannot remember her sitting with us at the table. When I think of Aunt Essie, I cannot help but smile, thinking back on  those biscuits enriched with an extra pound of love.

My Great Aunt’s family was among the millions who left the South in pursuit of a better life in the North. This movement was known as the Great Migration. Although they left their dwelling places and all it entailed, one thing for sure they did not leave behind was their southern style of cooking, which exalted those tiny kitchens in the tenements of Harlem.

Essie Houston in the center with her nieces in New York

Essie Harris-Houston died in New York City in January 1974. She was born in August 1899 to Susan Harris and Israel White in Brunswick, Glynn, Georgia.

By shelley dewese

As I continue to search out my history, I am discovering how much I did not know. The more information that is disclosed about my ancestry, the more I learn and understand how I am the person that has evolved today. As a native New Yorker, with deep roots in the Danish West Indies, now the Virgin Islands of the United States or commonly referred to as the United States Virgin Islands, I have always had a yearning to return to my maternal homeland. In September of 1976, my family and I relocated back to St. Croix. While living in New York, I was always telling my friends about my trip back home, but here I was actually waking up every day, walking among the streets and people that I have identified myself with all of my life. At the time, I was not involved in any genealogical work, but I knew there was a missing link that became completed after I was offered the opportunity to transfer Danish documents into a data base. That opened up my world and I realize that this was my niche. I now had the tools to explore and document my ancestry. Growing up, my mother always impressed upon her children the pride in being a “Bough”, which was her surname. Now I was able to track where that pride came from, through participating in family history projects and meeting new family, as we gathered together for the Bough Family Reunion on St. Croix in July of 2012. As I continued to research, I found my passion extending to photography. Sunsets and street art are my favorite features, as shown in my tumblr blog http://minkyadoo.tumblr.com/ I also began blogging, and found that it has help me to improve my writing skills. Through the comments and well wishes, I have been encouraged to continue to write the stories and events of my life. Whether or not your roots trace back to the Danish West Indies, you will find a beautiful tapestry of life that reflects our “baseball and apple pie”. This site affords you with the chance to transform yourself to a time during the Danish period (1734-1917) where life was both simple and complex. If you have any question, comments or need assistance in searching for a Danish West Indies ancestor, I invite you to drop me an email.

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