Written by Sylvias daughter-in-law and son, Brenda and Van D. Woods it explores and relates to a journey of success and happiness of an American family. Aimed at young readers, it tells how Sylvia and Herbert hailed from a humble background in the South and became the owners of a multimillion-dollar enterprise in the North. It also includes assignments, reading activities, and quizzes for use in the classroom.
Growing Up Sylvias shares the story of a family who represents what can be done with faith, love, determination, and unity within a family.
|Product dimensions:||8.50(w) x 11.00(h) x 0.14(d)|
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Growing Up Sylvia's
Brenda and Van D. Woods
This story is based on the lives of the family of Sylvia and Herbert Woods from Sylvia's Restaurant in Harlem, New York. This book is for young readers and adult readers and includes reading activities for students and teachers.
In this book, readers will explore and relate to a journey of success and happiness of an American family. Sylvia and Herbert came from a humble background in the South, in Hemingway, South Carolina, and became the owners of a multimillion-dollar enterprise in the North.
We hope you enjoy reading about this wonderful American family who represents what can be done with faith, love, determination, and unity within a family.
One blustery sunny day in Hemingway, South Carolina, in the late 1930s, twelve-yearold Sylvia Pressley played barefoot in a large bean field on her mother's farm. Sylvia and her mother, Ms. Julia Pressley, and her adopted sister, Louise, lived alone on the farm. Sylvia's father, Mr. Van Pressley, was a World War I veteran who had died from a war-related illness when she was a baby. Her mother and other family members helped in taking care of the farmland and the livestock.
Sylvia was born in Hemingway on February 2, 1926. She was a beautiful young girl who loved her family and wished to have a family of her own when she was older. Sylvia had brown eyes and skin like a mahogany tree. Her hair was as black as the ebony keys on a piano. She loved to run in the bean field barefoot. The soil beneath her feet felt soft. The soil was a warm, fluffy rug that made Sylvia smile when she felt the softness beneath her feet. Sylvia had a smile that could brighten up any room when she was present. Sylvia liked to play, and she liked to help her mother on their farm.
Every morning, Sylvia would get up early to prepare breakfast for her mother. Sometimes, her sister, Louise, would help. Louise was a relative who was adopted by Ms. Julia. Louise and Sylvia were very close. Ms. Julia was a midwife. She assisted mothers with delivering their babies. During the early 1900s in the South, many babies were delivered at home, not with doctors, but with midwives. It was more affordable for African Americans to deliver their babies at home than to go to a hospital. Besides, during this time, there were not many African American doctors in the South. Many white doctors in the South did not have African American patients. Ms. Julia delivered many babies, and she also made sure the birth certificates were filed and copies were given to the mothers. Ms. Julia became well known for her occupation, and many of her clients called her "Mamma."
After breakfast each morning, Sylvia would clean up and head for school. Sylvia and Louise would walk down a sandy dirt road to get there. Sometimes, they would meet up with their best friend, Willa. Sylvia was very pleased to have a sister and to have a great friend like Willa. The three of them were like three peas in a pod. They often walked to school together.
The school was a one-room building built out of unpainted wooden boards. It had six windows, with three windows on each side of the building and two doors. The school had one door for entering and one for exiting. There was an outhouse, a building outside the main building used as a restroom. These restrooms were much different from the restrooms we have today. There was no electric switch or septic tank in the outhouse or in the school. For light, they used an oil lamp and lanterns.
A stove that used wood and matches was used to cook the food and to keep warm. This was the only heating system they had. There were five teachers for grades one through eight. During the early 1900s, every state required students to complete elementary school. Sylvia loved going to school, and she loved learning new things.
During recess time, Sylvia would play hide-and-seek with her two best friends, and they would play house, pretending to be a mother and children. Sylvia always wanted to be the mother. They would pretend that the father was away on business, and Louise and Willa would play the children. After playing house, Sylvia would get a long stick that had fallen from a tree in the schoolyard and draw in the sand. She would draw a picture of a family with a father, mother, and children. Her friends would also draw pictures in the sand of animals, dolls, and doll dresses. They enjoyed expressing their dreams by drawing pictures in the sand.
Autumn came, and one breezy day as the wind blew silently, Sylvia was outside during recess time, drawing in the sand. A kid asked her, "Why do you always draw pictures of a family?" At that moment, Sylvia looked up and saw a very slim, brown-skinned boy standing over her.
She cleared her throat and answered, "I like to draw pictures of families in the sand. You see, my father died when I was very young, and I miss having a father around. I want to have a family of my own when I grow up. I also have a big dream of owning a beauty salon business someday. By the way, what is your name?"
"My name is Herbert, Herbert Woods."
"Nice to meet you, Herbert Woods," Sylvia replied.
"And your name?"
"Well, my name is Sylvia Pressley."
"It is indeed a pleasure to meet you, Miss Sylvia Pressley," Herbert said.
They both laughed.
"I will be over on this side of the yard tomorrow during recess time, and I hope to see you here, Miss Sylvia," said Herbert.
"You just keep hoping, Mr. Herbert," Sylvia said with a smile on her face.
When Herbert arrived home later that day, he was anxious to tell his parents about the young lady he had met at school. Herbert was also trying to figure out in his head where he had seen Sylvia before. He knew in his heart that he had seen her before, but the memory of his first vision of Sylvia was not registering with him. His parents knew Ms. Julia, Sylvia's mother, and they were pleased to know that their son was making friends at school.
Herbert's parents, Mr. Herbert Woods Sr. and Mrs. Pearl Woods, were well educated. Mr. Woods was a minister, and Mrs. Woods was a schoolteacher. They were also farmers. They owned several acres of land in Hemingway, South Carolina, which they lived on and farmed. Herbert had one brother, James, and one sister, Annette. Herbert was the oldest of the three children. Herbert also helped out on the farm, and he loved to read.
For the next several years at school, Sylvia and Herbert would sit on a tree trunk and talk during recess time and share their lunch. They became inseparable. They often spent time together during and after school. Herbert would walk Sylvia home every day. Many times, Willa and Louise were present on their walks home. Willa and Louise embraced Sylvia and Herbert's friendship. They liked having Herbert around.
One day, while Sylvia and Herbert were sitting on Ms. Julia's porch, Herbert finally remembered where he and Sylvia had first met. It was in one of the bean fields on Ms. Julia's farm the previous summer. They were gathering beans for their family and to make extra money. On their first encounter, they did not speak. They just glanced at each other from the bean row that stood between them. Herbert shared their first encounter with Sylvia, and she laughed and said, "You're right. I do remember that day in the bean field. I looked for you after we got through picking beans, and you were nowhere to be found. I'm glad that we found each other again. Now tell me, Herbert, what do you want to do when you finish school?"
"Hmm, I'm not sure about what I want to do, but I have read a lot of information about the navy. I enjoyed learning about how to become a sailor on a ship. You can cook for the navy and fight for them too. Miss Sylvia, I think I want to join the navy," answered Herbert.
"Isn't that kind of dangerous? You could be killed by soldiers from other countries who disagree with our country, or your ship might sink to the bottom of the ocean," Sylvia said anxiously.
"Nonsense, Miss Sylvia, those things ain't happening to me. I am going be a sailor and sail across the big blue sea like the Vikings and Christopher Columbus," said Herbert.
Sylvia just smiled and said, "I am going to cosmetology school. I want to own a beauty salon business someday."
"Wow, Miss Sylvia, that sounds big! How would you get there?" Herbert asked.
"I'm not sure. Just like you, I know this is what I want to do, and I'm going to make sure it happens," said Sylvia.
"Just maybe we could go to New York City together after we graduate from school," said Herbert.
"That sounds like a plan," Sylvia responded.
One evening just before dark in the fall of 1941, Sylvia and Ms. Julia were sitting on the porch of their home, watching the scenery of the farmland and listening to the sounds of the night casting over the farm like a gigantic dark cloud. Sylvia turned to Ms. Julia and said, "Momma, I want to go to New York City to attend cosmetology school after I graduate from school."
Ms. Julia responded, "Baby, why so far away?"
"Well, Momma, New York City has the best beauty school for black people. I am old enough to take care of myself now, and you have sacrificed so much for me. Momma, I am ready to make you proud of me," Sylvia said.
"Sugar, I am already proud of you," said Ms. Julia.
"Besides, Momma, I have heard that New York City is where black folks can get a good education to help with starting a business. I enjoy styling hair and applying makeup, and there are so many people in New York who need their hair and makeup done. I would fit right in there, Momma," Sylvia said excitedly.
Ms. Julia looked at Sylvia, and for the first time, she saw Sylvia not as her little girl anymore, but as a beautiful and ambitious young lady who was eager to fulfill her dreams. "I will have to think about this more, honey. Let's go to bed now. We can discuss this later," said Ms. Julia.
Sylvia had a long, weary night. She said her prayers and tried to fall asleep, but she was worried that her mother would not agree to let her move to New York City.
The next day, Ms. Julia did not have an answer for Sylvia. Sylvia did not ask her mother about moving to New York City again, but Sylvia was anxious to know. Sylvia had another sleepless night. She really wanted to move to New York City to attend cosmetology school. "Momma just gotta say yes!" Sylvia whispered to herself.
Morning came, and after they had breakfast, Ms. Julia suggested, "Sylvia, let's go for a walk." Sylvia agreed.
They walked along the bean fields on the farm. They walked by the old barn with the large barbed-wire fence, where the livestock was kept. Sylvia could smell the fragrances of the farm, and she noticed the scenery around the farmhouse.
The farmland was all shades of green, orange, brown, and yellow. It was a beautiful sight, with the blue sky and the bright sun shining above in the cool breeze. Sylvia closed her eyes as the breeze refreshed her face. She felt awake and ready for the world. Sylvia realized that this was home, and no matter where she went or lived, this would always be her home, her safe haven.
Sylvia's reflection of the love she shared with her mom and other family members on the farm made her feel a sense of belonging to a family that was both beautiful and extraordinary.
Ms. Julia took Sylvia's hand and said, "I think you should move to New York to attend cosmetology school."
Sylvia beamed from ear to ear. With tears in her eyes, Sylvia gave her mom a kiss and a big, tight hug and said, "Oh, thank you, Momma! I will make you so proud, and I will write to you every week."
"You better!" Ms. Julia said with a big smile. "Now, before you can go, young lady, I must write my relatives, Walter and Mary in Brooklyn, New York, to ask them to let you stay with them while you attend school," Ms. Julia said.
"Oh, thank you, thank you, Momma," Sylvia said happily.
Later, Sylvia's excitement became mixed emotions. She was excited and happy about moving to New York City, but she realized she would be leaving her mom, family members, the farm, her friends, and most of all, she would be leaving Herbert. In the meantime, Ms. Julia wrote a letter to her relatives, Walter and Mary, in New York. Now Sylvia would have to wait for a response from them.
Spring came, and Sylvia and Herbert were graduating in a month. They were both excited about graduating and starting their careers. One day outside of the school, Sylvia finally told Herbert the news about her mom agreeing to let her move to New York City. Herbert had some news of his own to tell Sylvia. "That's wonderful, Sylvia! I, too, hope to be stationed in New York when I enlist in the navy. Maybe we both will be in New York City at the same time."
Sylvia looked at Herbert and gave him a big smile and replied, "That would be wonderful, Herbert. Just think, both of us in New York City!"
They laughed. Then Herbert continued, "With the both of us together, the sky is the limit. We can do this, Sylvia!" They then embraced and went inside the school to join the others.
In the spring of 1941, after Sylvia and Herbert had graduated from school, Ms. Julia received a letter from her relatives in Brooklyn, New York. The letter informed Ms. Julia and Sylvia that they would love to have Sylvia stay with them while she attended cosmetology school. The only problem was that Sylvia would have to leave the next day to get enrolled into the school. Sylvia was excited and sad. She realized that the move was happening quicker than she expected. She would not have time to say her goodbyes to her friends and family. Later that evening, Sylvia began to pack for New York.
The next morning, after breakfast, Ms. Julia drove Sylvia, dressed in her Sunday best, down a long dirt road to the train station in a Mercury car. Ms. Julia had kept her husband's car and taught herself how to drive. Sylvia watched the dust as it gathered behind the car along the dirt road. She was missing home already. When they arrived at the train station, passengers were boarding the train. Sylvia said good-bye to Ms. Julia. Ms. Julia hugged Sylvia and gave her a brown paper bag with her lunch inside and said, "Oh, my baby, I will miss you, and I love you very much. Mind your manners, and listen to Walter and Mary. They will be your parents until you return. Take care of yourself, baby!"
"Yes, Momma, I will, and I love you. Thanks for everything. I will write to you soon!" Sylvia said affectionately.
"Go on now, baby!" Ms. Julia said with tears in her eyes.
Sylvia boarded the train from the rear. Blacks in the South in were not allowed to sit in the front of the train with white passengers. Blacks were under a law called separate but equal. They did not have the same rights or privileges as whites. Blacks were given more rights after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed. As the train departed from the station, Sylvia waved good-bye to Ms. Julia until she was out of sight. Ms. Julia cried the entire journey back home.
After twenty-four hours on the train, Sylvia arrived in New York City. Walter and Mary and their two children met Sylvia outside the station. They greeted her with a big, warm hug. The climate of New York welcomed Sylvia also. Sylvia had to pull out her coat from her suitcase because the spring temperature felt cool to her.
The crowded city, with its different kinds of vehicles, large buildings, and so many people, caught Sylvia's attention. To Sylvia, watching the people of New York City was like watching an anthill in the South when it is tampered with. The ants racing around the anthill was how Sylvia saw the people of New York City. Sylvia, Walter, Mary, and their two children walked the three blocks to where Walter had parked the car to go to their home in Brooklyn. Sylvia was captivated by the large skyscrapers and how all the buildings were connected in each block they walked. New York City was more than Sylvia could ever have imagined. Back home, neighbors lived miles away from each other, and neighbors in New York City live in the same building or next door. Stores and businesses were within walking distance, and some were just down the block from Walter and Mary's home.
The climate of New York was very different from Hemingway, South Carolina. The New York City climate was much colder in the fall, winter, and spring. Sylvia had to get used to the new climate. In the city, there were so many things to see and do. Sylvia smiled so much that her jaws and lips were tingling. She was mesmerized with the shops, museums, and theaters she visited in the city. Sylvia was trying to adjust to living in a big city in the North, which was very different from living on a farm in the South. She would be starting beauty school in a week. After two days in her new home, Sylvia sat down one evening and wrote her mother a letter.
Mary had sent Ms. Julia a telegram on the day Sylvia arrived, to inform her that Sylvia had made it to New York City safely. Ms. Julia was very pleased. In Sylvia's letter to Ms. Julia, she expressed how much she missed her, and she told her mother about the different sights she had seen in New York City. She closed her letter with "Love you, Momma! P.S.: Please tell Herbert where I am!"(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Growing Up Sylvia's"
Copyright © 2018 Brenda Woods and Van D. Woods.
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