Judy Hall recalls a story that was told to her by “Miss Anna.”
My dad worked hard to raise four kids, moving us from an African American neighborhood on Detroit’s Eastside to the Northwest side, which was predominantly Jewish back then. One day, as I was walking home, I saw one of my neighbors with whom I enjoyed talking and especially liked. Sometimes she would make tea and we would sit in her living room and talk. She was always interesting, and I liked her accent as she spoke.
On this particular day, I was about to learn just how interesting she really was. This day, she was standing in her front yard near the sidewalk, which may be where she’d been when I’d first met her. She could have been 75 years old; she was short, stout and wearing a dark blue dress. It seemed that she always wore dark dresses. I can no longer remember her name, as the conversation took place over 40 years ago, but I can remember what she had told me — as if it was yesterday.
I will call her Miss Anna. You see, Miss Anna told me of her travels all around the world. I was filled with wonder and could only think and say, “Wow, wow and wow.” I should mention that I was in my mid-teens and was already much taller than Miss Anna.
I must have said “wow” one too many times because she suddenly grabbed me by the shoulders and began shaking me. Her eyes locked onto mine and she screamed in my face, “It was no pleasure trip! We were running from Hitler!”
I felt confused. She quickly released me and backed away. Then she proceeded to pull up her sleeve to reveal dark green numbers tattooed on her arm. She’d been a prisoner in a concentration camp. I don’t remember exactly what happened after that. My heart began to pound, and the rest of the visit was a blur. I do remember how it scared me. Later that day I told my family what had happened.
One day after that, Miss Anna said, “I have some things for you. Do you want them?”
The two things that stood out to me were a kitchen stove and a super-big bag of canceled postage stamps from around the world and across time.
Later, I found out that Miss Anna had moved to Southfield. I went there to try and find her but was unsuccessful. All these years later, I decided to celebrate Miss Anna’s life and her sacrifices using the postage stamps she’d given me to retrace the steps she and her family had taken to escape tyranny and oppression.
When I called my sister to ask to borrow her drill for my art tribute, she asked me, “What are you building — a robot?” I laughed and said I was attempting to tell Miss Anna’s story, which had such a big influence on me. My sister cut me off and simply said, “I remember when you shared that experience with the family.” And I understood that I was not the only one who had been impacted by Miss Anna.
Judy Hall grew up on Indiana Street in Northwest Detroit and never forgot “Miss Anna.” She currently lives in Midtown Detroit.