A few weeks ago, I decided to join my Nana for Sunday dinner. I am glad I did. I was able to hear a great story about my great grandmother; my Nana’s mother- Dorothy Massey (Massie).
Dorothy Massey; Family Photo Collection
My grandmother has lived her entire life in the railroad town of Brooke, Virginia. Her family, as you may recall, has endured several family tragedies very near to or directly on the rails. My great grand father, great, great grand father and several great uncles and other relatives provided for their families thanks to the employment of the railroad. In fact my grandparents continue to live in the same railroad town as when they were young- though it has changed over the many years and is no longer known as a ‘railroad town’, even though the old RF&P (now a division of CSX Transportation) still makes her way through regularly- still connecting the north and the south.
Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Freight Train 1969; Photo Credit Roger Puta
When Nana was growing up in the 1930s, the RF&P train that came through wasn’t the Amtrak you and I are familiar with seeing or even commuting on today. No, these were freight trains and they brought with them, the tramps- as Nana said they were called back then.
Rail Road Tramp; Photo retrieved 3.21.2017 from http://www.google.com/search?biw=1338&bih=637&tbm=isch&sa=1&q=1930s+Virginia+Railroad+Tramp+&oq
According to Nana, on the days when the train was scheduled to come through town, the ladies would rise early and begin to prepare. They would cook and bake and the children would sweep back porches. Some ladies would set tables up, while others would prepare brown bag meals to go. Certain ladies, whose men had a special way with the corn meal, would prepare the milk bottles. If you were new to town, you would never know that this was going on or that something out of the ordinary was happening. The ladies still carried on with their normal, every day tasks- no matter what they were. Yet, when the trains came and the tramps arrived, they knew just where to go. Nana said they never walked around the street or did anything to draw unwanted attention to themselves- most of the time. Instead, they came up through the woods and knew which house to go to and would either stand just outside the back door and wait for whomever had been left home to tend them or take a seat at the table which had been prepared especially for them and help themselves. Nana says, they never took more than they could eat at that time because they knew another lady or two had prepared a bag meal for them to take.
I had time to ask my Nana just one more question before we all sat down to Sunday dinner and the conversation would turn to football, news, grandchildren and daily lives. I think I needed this particular bit of clarification because my mind was going in a specific direction as to how life was for southern black people at this time in history. (I am not saying that this wasn’t a struggle for black people at this time or anything like that.) Anyway, the clarification I needed… “Nana”, I said, “these tramps, they were black people, right?” She looked at me with kind of a shocked expression on her face, and said, “no! They were white men.”
And that was the end of our conversation.
I was not surprised by this story. I am a giver, so to come from a line of givers is not surprising. What is surprising to me is that a community came together without any fanfare or need for accolades to make sure others had and that they did not go without. Have we lost that? Have we grown so much and come so far that we have forgotten that we need to help our fellow sister and brother every once in awhile? I hope not. Today, I encourage all of us to take a lesson from the ladies and the tramps and help our sisters and our brothers out- whether they look like us or not.
Normally, I would take this time to ask you to hit the like button and share- wait, I am still asking you to do that! But instead of just leaving me a comment about an ancestor you have come across, who has influenced you, I would love to hear about an ancestor who helped their fellow man and how… I would also enjoy hearing how you are helping your sister and brother. (I know, I know. I have strayed into the land of the living. But as I am breathing, every once in awhile I might accidentally do that. My bad.)
For me, since I spend the majority of this Blog talking about me or those related to me, I would like to briefly tell you about ButterFLY Chics (in a world where girls are being exposed to media stereotypes and mean girl ideaology, there is a need for empowered and compassionate young ladies!) These ladies do so much in their community to give back and currently, they are collecting $5 gift cards to buy bottled water for Flint. (if you don’t know about Flint, you need to come out of the archives for a minute or two and breathe some fresh air) If you would like more information on how to support them, please find them on Facebook@ http://www.facebook.com/Butterflychics