Maywood’s Literary Past Meets Its Present at Annual ‘Old Timers’ Picnic

Screenshot 2014-08-20 at 1.13.41 PM(Maywood author Mary Morris’s Young Lions books on display. Bottom, left, author Francis Harris, with granddaughter Ayanna. Photos by Michael Romain for the Village Free Press).

Screenshot 2014-08-20 at 1.04.11 PM

Wednesday, August 20, 2014 || By Michael Romain 

MAYWOOD — Last Saturday, hundreds of past and present Maywoodians gathered to eat barbecue and network under pitched tents, laugh with long-lost classmates, and line dance in the shadow of the newly renovated gazebo at the 17th Annual Old Timers Picnic at Veterans Memorial Park on Fred Hampton Way. The 12-hour long event was the result of six months of planning and preparation.

“This is the best one yet,” said Minister Edward Howard, a member of the planning committee. “People from all over the country showed up. I had been praying for unity…We didn’t have a harsh word between the committee members for the entire six months of planning this. All day, it’s been nothing but smiles, hugs and kisses.”

Perhaps the oldest of the old timers in attendance was Merque Polk, 93, a former nurse. Polk sat gamely for much of the day, enjoying the sights and sounds of several generations being spun back together into one communal fabric, even as the fabric slowly unraveled as the day passed. People — each his or her own strand — strained to seize the day before time and distance pulled the whole thing back apart. The event was part family reunion, part networking session, part bazaar.

Lifelong Maywoodian Francis Harris was seated at a table under a tent erected for authors who hail from Maywood. Harris is the daughter of former Maywood Village Clerk Venida Perkins, who once lived with her husband, Clinton Perkins, Sr., and their band of children (it would grow to eight) in an apartment building at 832 S. 13th Avenue. The Divers family lived just across the street. Consuelo “Connie” Divers Bradley and her son, Rev. Scott A. Bradley,  were seated next to Harris, themselves (both mother and son) having also evolved into authors.

Divers Bradley, who publishes under the pen name “Cynique,” is the author of The Only One, a novel of romance and suspense, among two other self-published books. She a was a provocative columnist for the Chicago Today newspaper and the Chicago Daily News in the 1970s. Her son Scott, the author of the non-fiction titles Manhood: The Original Priesthood and Old Man’s Dreams, Young Men’s Visions, and the team chaplain for the Chicago Bulls, was a paperboy.

“My mom was a political writer,” Rev. Bradley said. “I got my inspiration from just seeing my mother’s words in those articles she’d write. Maywood used to be a political hotbed back then and we were raised with real awareness. Of course, there was Fred Hampton and all of this other stuff happening at the time.”

Harris, the author of the book Straight Talk: On God’s Undying Love for His Unique Women, which she self-published in 2011, grew up in the same political hotbed, but her literary inclinations, like Bradley’s, bent toward the spiritual. She said that her inspiration to write the book, which addresses women’s struggles with sexual relationships, was inspired from above.

“The Lord had instilled in me years ago to do this,” said Harris, who is also an ordained minister. “For a long time, though, I didn’t want to write this, because I didn’t want to reveal my the experiences of my past, but I had to help women who are struggling the same way.”

Reflecting on the present emotional landscape of young women in Maywood, and places beyond it, Harris said that often observes in the community the very problems she addresses in her book.

“I see a lot of our young women having premarital sex and illegitimate children and having to raise children alone,” she said. “There’s a lot of low self-esteem among women, a lot of them are just looking for love in the wrong places.”

The literary connections went beyond Harris and her former neighbors. Prentiss Byrd, author of the novel Anne Marie, grew up in Second Baptist Church, where Harris was ordained and the church she’s attended her entire life. Maywood author, Annette Barker, who wrote Delight Thyself in Fasting, which was selling at the same table, is pastor of the Christian Unity M.B. Church, down the street from Harris’s present home in Maywood. And Queenella Miller, another longtime Maywoodian, author of the novel Didn’t They Know, which she displayed at a table just several feet away, has known Harris for decades. There were other authors as well, virtually all of them connected, their lives and thoughts and interests intertwined.

Screenshot 2014-08-20 at 1.04.48 PMScreenshot 2014-08-20 at 1.05.11 PM(Rev. Bradley and his mother Connie Divers Bradley display their works at the Maywood Old Timers Picnic. Photographs by Michael Romain for the Village Free Press).

It’s this tightly stitched  closeness, this intimate attachment, that Al Nuness misses about the Maywood where he grew up. Nuness, a former basketball star at Proviso East High School and the University of Minnesota, still returns home when he gets the chance. His mother still resides here and within the next week or so, he’ll return to be inducted into the Proviso East Hall of Fame.

“I lived in Maywood when it was only three churches and blacks lived within a four block area,” Nuness said. “To see all these faces–it’s special. This was a well-rounded community. We didn’t miss a thing. We had everything — bowling, Boy Scouts, Brownies, chess. The true essence of the saying, ‘It takes a village,’ — that was Maywood.”

Nuness said that if the youngest generation of Maywoodians can’t experience what he had, he wants to dedicate himself to at least communicating to, and impressing upon, them the essence of that bygone community.

“I think that’s what our present youth lack. I love our athletic tradition, but children today need to know that the only way out doesn’t have to be through sports,” said Nuness, who since his playing days has gone on to a distinguished career in national sales. He’s the man professional sports franchises seek out for their custom-designed rings after they win championships.

“This is the old Maywood,” Mayor Edwenna Perkins said to the throng. She was standing with Trustee Audrey Jaycox and Acting Village Manager David Myers on the gazebo that had been deteriorating for the last few years. Village staff were able to renovate the structure, replacing its wooden beams with new steel ones and steadying the base, just in time for Saturday’s picnic. It was nearing the end of the day — the air a bit cooler, shadows forming at the edges of things. This is the old Maywood — it bustled with accomplishment and ideas and thinking people who write books in their spare time. But it can be the new Maywood, too. VFP

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