Miss Hanna Steward

I REMEMBER MISS HANNAH as my mother’s dearest friend. They differed in appearance and actions, but there existed a bond of love between them that was never broken. When my mother was a corpse at the undertakers, Miss Hannah went there and spent a while with her. Though my mother was stilled in death, I feel that she must have known her friend was by her side.
Miss Hannah was small in stature, but her spirit was large towards her fellow man. She was a bulwark of courage and endurance. Ever since I could remember, she and my mother taught together in the public schools. They worked together at Myers Street School and later at Second Ward High School. Each delighted in the other’s successes, and each shared the other’s sorrows. They always lived only a few houses apart on East Boundary Street. Not a day passed that Miss Hannah didn’t come to see about Miss Leary. My mother waited for her daily visits and if she didn’t come, I had to go hunt for Hannah.
My mother was gentle and a little more patient than Miss Hannah. Miss Hannah believed in getting things done and done immediately. If a boy sassed her or didn’t obey her in the classroom, her powerful little hand would slap his jaws without her giving one moment of hesitation. No boys to my knowledge ever defied her. Once they had been slapped, the boys long remembered the stinging licks. Many of them said afterwards that the licks did them much good.
I remember her coming to our house one day and saying with a hearty laugh “I just slapped a man down on the street. I forgot he was a man, and I slapped him anyway. He didn’t say anything.”
Miss Hannah’s father died when she was quite young. One day, she told us how she and her brother left home the night her mother married the second time and wouldn’t return until the ceremony was over. After her father’s death, she went to live in Salisbury with relatives. They sent her to school at Livingstone College where she was trained to become a teacher.
I remember Miss Hannah telling about her experiences one night at a church meeting in Salisbury. She and several giggling girls went to church and sat in the back seats. The preacher waxed eloquent and began to call for mourners to come to the mourner’s bench which was at the front of the church.
“Sinner! Sinner, where are you?” he called. Again he pleaded imploringly, “Sinner, sinner, come on up. Where are you sinner?” One mischievous girl in the group called out, “Here I am! What you want?” That was the end of their visit. They were hustled out in a hurry by a member of the congregation.
Miss Hannah knew how much to stretch one dollar and make two from it. She must have inherited her thrifty ways from her grandmother. She often said that wherever her grandmother moved, she bought a piece of property in that place. Her grandmother was a cook and received the small pay of years ago, but from her meager salary, she bought a large tract of land on Boundary Street. At her death, part of it was left to Miss Hannah. On this spot, she build the home in which she lived for many years.
Miss Hannah was thrifty even as a child. I remember her telling us how she and her brother would scour the cotton fields in the fall for crack cotton. She explained to me what was meant by that term because I had never heard it before. Crack cotton was the name applied to late blooming cotton and cotton overlooked by pickers when they picked the cotton fields in the fall.
She and her broker would take their yield and sit before the fireplace at night. There they would pick the cotton and take it to the cotton gin for sale. This extra money helped buy shoes and other things that they needed.
Miss Hannah was a natural saleswoman. She bought and sold everything that came to hand. Her teaching salary was small, and she tried to supplement it in many ways. Once she operated a little store that was annexed to her home. It was a small room filled with things that the neighborhood people needed such as apples pencils, kerosene, bread, etc. She didn’t mind if her profits were small. She kept on saving penny profits, and they amounted to dollars. Her money was put to good use. Much of it went to help others. Her money was put to good use. Much of it went to help others. We often thought that she denied herself of many things that she might have enjoyed.
Miss Hannah bought more property near her home and in other parts of Brooklyn. People confided in her, and young people, both boys and girls, entrusted her with their problems. If a young person was hungry, she would lend him or her money to keep the wolf from the door. At the same time, she would require repayment, thus helping the person to develop worthy business qualifications.
Her latch string remained on the outside of her home and was almost available for the homeless to use. Many a young boy and girl were enabled to get an education because of her generosity. She would provide them with a home or assistance until they were able to provide for themselves.
Kindred as well as those who were not her kin were recipients of her great passion to help others. She continually exhorted young people to go to school and stay in school “so that you can be something.” She was never married to have children of her own, but all children seemed to have been her children. Many adults will always be grateful to her for her helping hand.
I remember the testimony of a popular radio announcer at her funeral. At one time in his early years, he had a serious speech defect. Miss Hannah was his teacher at this time. She took note of his speech difficulty and along with my mother, who also taught and directed him, helped him to overcome this obstacle. He is now one of the most talented radio announcers in the city.
Miss Hannah was never very domestically inclined. In fact, she said she liked to be in the streets always on the go to find out about something. She knew everybody, colored as well as white, and there were few people who had ever live in Brooklyn that Miss Hannah couldn’t recall.
If information was needed about a person, a building or about who was mayor during a certain period, people would say, “Ask Miss Hannah.” She had a powerful ability to recall facts and people. To have a long conversation with her was really a historic treat.
She didn’t like housework and there was one particular phase of it that she hated to do. She hated to make up her bed. She would often come to our house, laugh and say, “My bed’s airing this morning.” We knew that it was aired very frequently because she really hated to make it up.
My mother knew also that she didn’t care about cooking. She often was invited to eat with us, and many neighbors also invited her to have dinner with them. I always looked forward with delight to her Sunday afternoon visits. She was a masterful storyteller loaded with funny jokes. We would gather around in front of a big open fire, and she would regale us with stories about her life and the lives of others. Somewhere in Liberia, Africa, her grandmother had a living relative. This relative had bought his freedom in America and returned to Africa. Her grandmother was working in the fields one day, when all at once, a large black bird resembling a buzzard or an eagle swooped down upon her. This was an omen to her, and not long afterwards, she received the news that the relative in Africa had died.
I remember another funny story that she told about a brief earthquake this section had experienced years ago. People screamed and ran out of their homes when the earth shocks came.
A certain husband had been philandering on his wife. She had remonstrated often with him, but he paid no attention to her. When the earthquake came, he rushed home out of breath. In he rushed to his wife calling loudly, “Pray for me! Pray for me, honey!”
His wife said, “Get away from me, man! I ain’t got no time to pray for you. I got to pray for myself!”

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