My friend Ed wrote this on his blog Travails of the Yinzer. This house has been empty for 20 years and home to many, many generations of cats and groundhogs and possum and some humans here and there.
Miss Maryjanes haas.
They are tearin dahhn Miss Maryjanes haas today. I stopped in for one last visit last night.
Miss Maryjane was an old black woman who lived up the street from me when I lived in Manchester in my 20s, mid to late 1980s..
I did fix-it work for all the old folks on our street, all the dumb little repair jobs that drive old poor people crazy, and often get them ripped off by half ass contractors. “Tar the roof Eddie please? It’s leaking in my bedroom again, and I think the ceiling is going to fall..”“Can you fix my back gate? “That old door needs planed off, it won’t shut anymore..”
Miss Maryjane often needed her bathroom plumbing soldered, as her bathroom was really just a shack tacked onto the back of her house, it was so old and poorly built you couldn’t see right outside through the joints in the boards, we would patch those cracks up, but the whole thing was falling off the main house, it didn’t really have a foundation, so patches and fixes were all I could do for her.
I had a LOT more free time back then. I was living with my grandma, Ruby wasn’t born yet, I was running a small business building and repairing stained glass windows and just starting out restoring houses. With that free time, then as now, I fixed things for folks and didnt charge them much.
These folks didn’t have much. Old Paul who lived across the street, he owned his house but hadn’t paid the taxes in years, it was a giant old brick thing, he lived there alone, in absolute squalor, he got social security, maybe something from the military, cause he’d been in The Big One, but I bet it wasn’t much, he’ll, if you were born in 1911 like my grandma was, they said you only got about half what you were supposed to, “the donut hole” it was called, those folks just got screwed, and nobody gave a fuck. I’d go across the street to talk to Paul sometimes, fixed his gigantic ancient furnace a couple times, take out his trash, it was scary how that old guy had to live.
Miss Maryjane was really nice, we’d sit and talk sometimes, in the front room where she died, talk about how my grandma was doing, or how Miss Gordon, the bitchy old lady who lived next to my grandma was torturing everyone with her nebby bullshit and constantly calling tbe mayor on people.
I miss those days, I miss that Northside, even though it was a lot dirtier and way more dangerous, and most of the houses were boarded up wrecks. I miss Miss MaryJane, and all those simple folks who were just trying to stay alive in a neighborhood that wouldn’t be the same just ten years later.
I enjoyed Ed’s memories and the video. I’ve been to that house daily since late December to feed the community cats. I’ve stepped inside a bit, I’ve poked around the bathroom and close spaces, but I never dared go further than that. This was a gift to me, a lasting piece of Miss Mary Jane’s story.
Her story matters, not just her house. Her niece told me that Miss Mary Jane had a spiritual gift with cats. I’m a believer because it seemed like cats fell out of the sky into her yard or house. I found at least four lost/missing cats there, perhaps as many as seven depending on how you count. If you lay in the field and looked up at the sky, it seemed lika portal was opening.
Today, they knocked down the house. I wasn’t home so I didn’t get to go warn my kitties. The demolition company said they would contact me, but they didn’t – Ken Reilly Demolition, why not help the cats? It wasn’t their fault. So tonight I’ll go up with some yummy canned food and try to see who is around.
There’s another important angle – this version of Miss Mary Jane’s story is told by two white people, only one of who actually knew her. And while I’m a proud cat lady, I understand that the voices of urban women, especially Black, Brown and Other People of Color are part of that legacy and should be sought out and lifted up. Miss Mary Jane has a spiritual connection, but many women (and men) had a more practical relationship – feed the cat so it stays around and hunts for mice and vermin – a fair deal. Cats and urban housewives in the early part of the 20th century before plumbing and running water and electricity probably had a pact with the Devil to keep one another safe. And it would be necessary.
White women like me should be eager to learn more from cat ladies representative of the larger community, historical and contemporary. Not to exoticize them, but to genuinely learn and do better by the cats. I was involved in a situation today involving a queer person of color and it was like pulling teeth to get people to understand that race, gender identity, sexual orientation, gender expression ALWAYS are part of the equation.
Miss Mary Jane, I hope you took care of your kitties one last time. I’ll do right by them moving forward.
Rest in power, Miss Mary Jane.
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