My fraternal grandmother was Hettie Johnson, and I remember her very well. She moved to Miami from Atlanta during the mid-fifties. She was a widow by then, my grandfather Walter L. Stokes, having died in 1949. Not only was our family here, but my Aunt Frances [Stokes Harris] and her family were here. The Harris clan had moved here from Greensboro, first to Miami Springs, and then to a bigger home in what is now Pinecrest, about 12 or so miles south of us. Grandmother lived with them.
Then, when I was about 11 or 12, my Uncle Harold [Harris] had a heart attack (right out of the blue) and died, leaving behind my Aunt Frances and two young cousins Ken and Tim. My aunt, Ken and Tim moved back to Miami Springs, less than a mile from our house, and Grandmother Stokes came with them. Aunt Frances moved there so that my dad and mom could help her with her two sons and our grandmother, and also because my dad had helped her get a job in the weather department at Eastern Air Lines at the airport, which is adjacent to Miami Springs. Our families were close but we got even very closer after they moved back to Miami Springs. For example, we all attended the same church downtown and my cousins and I went to the same junior high school, Ken and I were in the band, etc.
Grandmother Stokes developed breast cancer. I don’t think they could do a lot for women with that disease back in the late fifties and early sixties, and she finally died at home, at Aunt Frances’ house. I believe my dad was there. I remember that she had very little money; Aunt Frances had little; and we had little. Dad and Aunt Frances would take her to Jackson Memorial Hospital, where she was treated as a charity patient. I think I was in the 9th grade when she died. (I have pictures of her.)
Sometimes when I look at Mary, I see her, because Mary is slim and tallish, as Grandmother Stokes was, and Mary walks as I remember Grandmother doing. (It was startling the first time I saw this.) She was a very calm and dignified lady, soft spoken, very gentle, very conscientious about doing the right thing and being aware of the needs of others.
My mother was my father’s second wife. He had been married for a short time to a woman who would simply not move out of her mother’s house, he said, and they divorced within a year of their marriage. That woman never remarried. In my dad’s religious culture, he was not to marry again himself. But then he met my mother, and that took care of that. But Grandmother Stokes didn’t think he should marry again and somehow let my mother know about it. But over the years, my mother said, my grandmother began to soften and finally admitted that she had been wrong, that God must have meant for my dad and my mother to marry. That’s a story that has always been interesting to me, and one that does great credit to my mother, I think, who helped my aunt and my dad care for Grandmother both emotionally and physically.