Tag Archives: Carnegie Museum of Art/Teenie Harris Collection

The Stories They Dare Tell–True Stories of Hill Residents by Renee Aldrich

Ms. Aldridge’s grandmother, affectionately known as “Ma Pitts”, standing behind the counter of her restaurant

So after too many days of living in chaos after getting a delivery of furniture, I begin the arduous process of putting things back together again.  Because on the front end things were somewhat out of order so to speak, the situation was slightly overwhelming at best; however my motto is lately move it one piece of paper at a time, hang up one out fit at a time, etc. etc.

So as I was moving stacks of papers, photos, books and envelopes; low and behold I come upon an unopened enveloped dated February of 2009.  Imagine my surprise when I see it is from Carnegie Museum of Art/the Teenie Harris collection in the return address portion addressed to me.  Hmm I tear this open and what I find totally trips me out.

About 3 years ago I visited the Teenie Harris collection while it was on display at the Carnegie; I identified a photo of my amazing grandmother in her restaurant standing behind her counter with a customer–an extremely large man by the name of Tiny.  I filled out the form stating who she was and what that photo l was about; after that I received a call and had a more in depth conversation with one of the archivist.  Now several months later that photo appeared in the Carnegie Mellon Magazine with the information I  provided and pretty much that was it.

I am extremely proud of my heritage.  My grandmother and her sisters owned a series of restaurants all of them located in Pittsburgh’s Historic Hill district.  Her restaurant “Ma Pitts”, as she was affectionately referred to, was known not only for the fabulous food you could get 24 hours a day; but also for the fact that my grandmother fed many people who had no money.  She also provided jobs for various and sundry characters in and around her restaurant, located on the corner of Wylie and Townsend.  She did not treat people poorly because they were under the influence of alcohol, or lived in a room, or was broke, she gave people the respect of their person hood–as a result she was blessed to have this business, to set her sisters up in business, to raise 8 children all in good health, and have a husband who loved her and supported her entrepreneurial spirit for 60 years.  I shared this story with the archivist with whom which I was speaking about my grandmother.

The unopened envelope mailed to me back in February of 2009 contained a letter from a photographer who had worked with the woman I spoke with, thanking me for the interview,  apologizing that the  package was a year delayed itself.  Other contents of the package were old courier articles about my Grandmother’s restaurant, photos of her, of the waitresses of her establishment, and archived courier articles of the full page display of my grandmother’s funeral.  The story was remarkable, right their in front of my eyes were photo of my mother and father (both deceased in excess of 15 years) walking down the steps of Wesley Center AME Church –  my father consoling my mother and both of them looking extremely young.  Since I was 13 years old when my grandmother died, both of them would have been 38 and 44 respectively.  WOW.

I sat on the side of my bed looking at the pages of my past unmoving, sifting through the photos and the articles at least 25 minutes.  It seemed so surreal, I wanted to do something, to cry, to laugh, to jump on the phone and call a ton of people and share this discovery.  My grandmother was an awesome woman whose time was too short on this earth; but for sure in those 65 years she was impactful, 3 businesses, property owner, employer, brilliant business woman, and was married to a strong black man who was in know way intimidated by her capabilities, who was her partner and was contented to let her run her businesses; while he worked 45 years on the B&O railroad. These were to couples that we as African Americans were.  This was a woman who should be one of the Couriers 50 Women of Excellence…this is the woman on whose shoulders I stand.  Strong, solid, a giver and not a taker this was my grandmother…this is what I found in an unopened envelope.