Sunday, March 23, 2014

My Great Aunt "Aunt Jemima"

In parade circa 1950s 
Yes, my grand aunt, my maternal grandmother's youngest sister, at one point in her life worked for Quaker Oaks, donned the entire costume and served pancakes, as "Aunt Jemima." I explained to my cousin, after doing some research, that she was one of many who served in this role.

She was born Josie Bracy (1912-1990) in Walker County, in the town of Dodge, Texas. She was the fifth child and third daughter born to Reverend Calvin Bracy and Julia (Harris) Bracy.

Growing up we heard so many references to her; some called her "Aunt Jo", but as children we called her, "Big Momma", or "Aunt Josie."

I never knew the circumstances behind why she moved out to California from Texas, but my speculation, is that she left an abusive marriage. I am beginning to think that back then folks, men and women, if it didn't work out - walked away.

By her walking away from whatever caused her to leave Texas, landed her the job at Quaker Oats.

She cared for her nieces and nephews; she reared my mother and uncle as if they were her own children. That's for another blog, but they used to refer to her as, "Momma".

Her second marriage was to Jesse Johnson, a Virginia native, and a US Army veteran who fought in World War II.  We called them "Big Daddy" and "Big Momma" respectively.

She was quite instrumental in providing me my first family interview of my mother's maternal side, and got me started learning more about the family history.  She's the one who knew all the relatives, and how we were related. She was a tough as nails, no nonsense woman, who definitely had a big heart, but never held back the rod.  Lest I forget that she could cook her "peep" off!

I wonder if she was ashamed of her role at Quaker Oats because she rarely talked about her job, or maybe we were (I was) too young to fully understand.

By the early 1970s she had a pinched nerve, which caused paralysis. She could stand, but never walked again.

She was definitely the family matriarch from about 1970-1990, and wielded it with great authority.  She passed away on October 16, 1990.

from left to right: My grandmother, Uncle Jack, Aunt Ruby, Aunt Lou, (seated) Aunt Josie
Josie Johnson and her husband Jesse Johnson
My first cousin had most of these photos along with a newspaper clipping that was in my great aunt's photo album.  Her father, my maternal uncle, had these photos and when he passed, I asked to borrow the photo album, thus making it possible for me to share this story and the story of other ancestors.