They graduated both from UMass in 1969. He’d gone to Howard to get his doctorate in history and seeking to relish the experience of being surrounded by my black intellectuals in the nation’s capitol. He had, of course, invited his beloved Belle to join him.
She’d refused. Being a liberated woman, there was no way Isabella Washington was going to simply follow a man somewhere. Even if she did love him more than the moon as she told all of their friends. Upon graduation, she’d packed her own bags upon graduation and headed her own way. To NYU and a certificate in museum studies, to go along with her dual master’s degrees in sculpture and Africana Studies. It had taken her three years and my father was on the train from DC to New York so often that the regular train crew knew him by name. ‘Off to see that girl of yours?’ They’d joke as he pulled out the always rumpled ticket from his pocket. When Amtrak was founded in 1971, he’d gotten a 10-trip commuter pass which had cost him an entire week’s salary from his two menial jobs as a grocery bagger and a burger flipper at McDonalds. Odd jobs to have for you were an ethical vegetarian as he and Belle both were and still are. So are their three offspring! Anyway he told me that He’d always blush and fork over the ticket in spite of the teasing.
Now, she’s here as a fellow at Five College Woman Studies Center. They don’t pay her, but she’s influencing tons of young women and getting a free place to display her art as well as internet access, a bus pass, and a student assistant. It’s not like matters much, my father makes enough money to support them both, she said. Then realizing what sort of woman that made her mother sound like added quickly, “Not that she would. My mother contributes 50% of her earned income to house. Her money pays our allowances. I get $10 and my sister and brother get $25 each. After that, whatever’s left over gets divided between the holiday fund, the vacation club, and the emergency fund.”When they got married in the June of 1972 merely because neither set of parents would condone their living together and this a direct quote from my mother “the social appropriateness of matrimony.”
Her classmates laughed. I know I thought it funny, too,” AP admitted. “But I guess that’s how it was back it the day.”
AP couldn’t resist adding just one more ‘How cool is my mother’ fact my mother refused to take my father’s name unless he took hers to, so they both changed their names to became Washington-Williams. Diploma in hand, she moved to DC to be with him that July. I don’t think they’ve spent longer than 2 weeks apart ever since. But my father’s buddies at Howard teased him mercilessly about changing his name just to get a girl.
He replied that Belle which just some girl, she was the girl and that they were just jealous. After she came to live with him, he caught back to one job, because he didn’t need to by a train ticket every other week. She made enough money teaching and selling art that that he could quit working complete during his dissertation defense year and just write. This was something else his friends with rather horrible about. To my father’s credit, he always told him that they wished they were that lucky and had found such accomplished women for themselves.” He defended his dissertation in April of 1975 and became in associate professor of history at Hendrix College that fall. My mother got a job as an adjunct in the Hendrix art Department, which later turned into an associate professorship of her own. My father was awarded a full professorship and helped found the Africana Studies department there. They saw the population grow
from 15,000 when they arrived to over 25,000 when they left.
My mom applied to teach at Spellman in 1991 and my father used his sabbatical year, and a separate jobs opportunities teaching two classes each at Morehouse and Spellman follow her for a year. He thought they’d go back to Arkansas at the end of year, but it didn’t work out that way. My mother was always a city girl and even though she loved exposing her Hendrix students to new things, it didn’t take long for Atlanta and Spellman to steal her affections.
She told my father that she would stay in Atlanta and he could go back to Arkansas. It was only a nine hour trip by car, 3 hours by plane. They’d seen each other every Thursday through Sunday. More than most 2 income couples, she reasoned. Plus they would have more to talk about and actually be happy when they did see each other. This arrangement would enable them both to pursue their careers in places that suited them. This arrangement continued until my mother found herself pregnant in mid-October. At almost 40, she knew this was probably her last chance to have a biological child.
My father completed his contracted year at Hendrix, and applied for teaching job at Morehouse. He got it. It was just an associate professorship, but it was a job that let him live with his wife and take care of his family.
She moved down the poster board. “ On to my generation.” That’s my big brother, Morgan Abraham Washington-Williams, Jr. We call him MJ. She pointed at the picture of her brother from when he played Jesus in Jesus Christ, Superstar last year at the Shubert Theater. He goes to Hampshire College were he studies musical theater and video game design. He’s a freshman. I have a big sister. They’re fraternal twins. My parents named her Moonbeam because my mother always said, as I told you before that she loves my father more than the moon. They’ve been married 38 years now.
I was an unexpected silver anniversary present. They actually found out on the day of. In case you’re curious at 46, my mom was still was a full decade ahead of the oldest woman to have a kid the old fashioned way. Her classmates giggled. She blushed and wondered if, contrary to daddy’s opinion, there actually was such a thing as too much information.
“You see, my parents are very ecologically minded, they planned to only have two kids one to replace each of them. They thought about not having me, but my mom said one the saw the sonogram that idea went out the window. In order to make me truly the family’s baby instead of just theirs, they wanted my siblings to have a part in my naming. Moonbeam and MJ got to give me one name each. They flipped a coin to determine who got to give me my first name and you would give me my middle name. “ She paused “My brother won and as he worshiped Aretha Franklin at the age of 12. In fact, he still does. He was her for Halloween last year. My sister was really into Pocahontas the time. She can still sing every song on the soundtrack. That’s why she wanted to call me Pocahontas. My parents tried to talk her out of that, but to no avail. My birth certificate actually says Aretha Pocahontas Washington-Williams.” her classmates laughed again. “Is it any wonder I go by AP? Thank you for listening.” she did a curtsy and started to return to her to her seat.
Then she stopped, remembering to ask, “Are there any questions?” Mr. Russo had told the 7th graders that he would deduct 10 points from the grade of anyone who forgot to ask that.