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The Artists: Howard Armstrong and Barbara Ward Armstrong

In 1989 Howard painted the first illustration for a children's book about Barbara's experiences growing up. Since then, they worked together on more than 50 illustrations. The story begins with the death of Barbara's grandmother, who raised her from age 11. Her grandmother's death led Barbara to look back at her childhood and delve into confusing memories about why she was separated from her eight brothers and sisters.

"The book brought us closer together. He got to know a lot about me. Every once in a while I'd say, ‘I have an idea for a drawing' and he'd say, ‘Wow, that must have been something.'"

"I lived with my mother until I was eleven years old and then without any explanation I was suddenly living with my grandmother. I was kind of confused growing up. I didn't know who wanted me. So the book really deals with the anger of a child not understanding what I was feeling."

"The four grand ladies who raised me. Those great-aunts and great-grandmothers. It's a mysterious drawing. First thing anyone will ask, '‘Who are they?' These ladies are the voices I hear all the time. Because I missed them so, I wanted to convey to children the value of elders. There isn't a day that goes by that I don't think about those ladies."

"When Nana died, I felt I'd lost another mother. Losing her made me look at my own mortality. I was compelled to tell this story. Nobody except somebody who loved me, felt the pain, could convey that as (Howard) did. The drawing conveys such gentleness, and the fine line between life and death."

"I get this anxious feeling going to the gravesite where my grandmother is. And when I get there, there's nothing there. You know, that's reality. There's nothing but grass, dirt and headstones. And it's closure. It helps you to let go."

"After school I would go to have lunch with Nana. She was running the elevator at the Cambridge Savings Bank. As an adult I would have nightmares about that lightbulb, and I realized it was the bulb in the basement of the bank. I asked my great-aunt, and she explained that blacks weren't allowed in the 1940s to eat in the cafeteria of the bank. And so that I would not experience that racism, Nana would bring fresh flowers from the yard and a fancy tablecloth and set up a 'tea party' in the cellar. So I never saw the ugliness of that space."

"That's my great-aunt who passed away after my grandmother died. They were very close sisters and she said she didn't want to live anymore. She called us one day and asked us to bring our instruments over to sing. I never knew Aunt Cora liked the blues."





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