Here’s an historic professional studio photograph of our late mother Violet Lorraine (b. 1924, d. 2012). It’s on permanent display with several other family photographs in a prominent place in our home.
Mom Burnett graduated from Olathe High School with her racially integrated class of 1941.
Our paternal aunt Aida Burnett was among her classmates and the only other Black student.
At 17, mom entered Pittsburg State Teacher’s College where she attended for two years until returning home to live in Olathe and work at the Sunflower Munitions Plant in service of the national ethos supporting the allied efforts to ensure a victorious resolution of World War II.
She subsequently married our father Clifford LeRoy when he returned home to Olathe after his World War II service as a Navy “Sea Bee.”
Several years after they had started a family together, my father re-enlisted in the active duty military, this time to serve in the Air Force.
I was almost two years old at the time we began these travels and also the youngest child of the family. I remember our military service years as among our happiest.
We had lived in Colorado and France, where three of my four younger siblings were born.
And then we lived in Michigan before settling in our maternal hometown city of Paola in the 1960s where our last brother was born.
Our parents divorced between my freshman and sophomore years of high school. Looking back from a more mature perspective, the established foundation we had been given by both of our parents, (along with the strong community paradigm we grew up within during those times,) enabled each of us as fellow school age siblings to successfully meet our challenges with overall resiliency. That’s cool.
Mom would ultimately live the remaining decades of her life as a happy resident and fine citizen of the greater Paola community.
She was also an active member of our church where she even played the piano as part of the music ministry – for services and for the choir.
She worked her way up in her professional career to ultimately serve as a state certified alcohol and drug abuse counselor for the (now defunct) Osawatomie State Hospital. We still have some of her business cards and awards.
Mom was the very first Black person (male or female) to do this type of work there and she even had a very nice “corner office” in her department’s building on the hospital campus.
She helped successfully raise very positively productive children (who were spread over three decades in ages) mostly during the period known as the American Civil Rights Era.
Each of us became adults who were equipped.
This is Black History.
It’s like the history of most any family, really.
And this story could likely be told with similar details by most Black families in America, and in almost any era, or from the perspective of most any generation.
What I would like to emphasize here in telling about our mother isn’t explicit in the preceding inspiring narrative.
But it’s likely the most important thing she’d want told and if not just simply remembered.
Mom never quit. No matter how good or how bad the particular circumstances, her faith remained very steady.
Hers was also a life that I witnessed as being tangible to my own and others, not simply a professional resume or good life obituary.
What’s not mentioned between the above heroic lines is the real heroism of continuing on after her mother died in a car accident when she was only six.
Mom and her baby sister went on to be raised by her aunt and uncle because our relatives didn’t allow their men to raise little girls all alone and by themselves back in those days.
What’s not mentioned between the above heroic lines is the real heroism of continuing on even after her widowed father died one day unexpectedly when his home’s heating stove literally burned his house down in the early morning hours before he was to leave for work.
What’s not mentioned between the above heroic lines is the real heroism of continuing on often positively and often only by her faith.
The importance of those historic lines above is what real good can happen in our own lives and those of other people when we don’t quit.
# # #
Christopher and Terri (Anderson) Burnett established their branch of The Burnett Family in March of 1979 at Copenhagen, Denmark. They are professional musicians based in the Kansas City Metropolitan Area.
Our stuff. You know, stuff – not the property or money you leave behind to heirs in a last will and testament. That’s another blog.
Stuff. After many years of consideration and looking at the current reality of our situation regarding heirs and assigns, we realized that our middle aged kids really don’t want our stuff to carry around with them (and their own stuff) after we are gone.
Especially when we also considered how much stuff we genuinely and inherently have accumulated that is not necessarily the typical junk one typically can and does accumulate during a life.
A few years ago, we purposely went through our stuff and got rid of lots of junk. We also totally reorganized those typical bastions of stuff, our storage room and garage. We were ruthless purgers, in that if it was junk, it was gone, regardless of sentiment.
Being selected from among our siblings by our parents to keep certain tangible historic family documents, and admittedly not having a problem with serving in that informal archivist role for our families, we have collected some items related to the greater history of both sides of our family too. We are honored to do it.
We are not famous people, nor celebrities, so we find it wonderful that the State Archives Division of the Kansas Historical Society is interested in taking our collection when we pass on to that next dimension. See https://www.kshs.org
It must also be noted that we are very happy that there is particular interest in historical collections from Black Kansans.
The everyday Black American’s family history is often lost to posterity or overlooked by Ivy League historians doing research.
The contemporary history related to our particular branches of the Burnett and Anderson families now has the opportunity to be tangible during the lives of multiple generations to come.
Thanks to the Kansas State Historical Society our archives can extend beyond all of those individuals who are living now in our family. I like that they may not know us personally but they will know better who they themselves are. Indeed.
These archived items will provide tangible family history that objectively speaks to events during our lifetimes.
This Christopher and Terri Burnett collection will be in the form of donated items reflecting both our personal and professional lives.
We are sharing this journal in a blog with others in hopes that those so inclined will do the same for their unknown heirs.
? “ON THIS DAY” (February 13, 2011) ten years ago, we took our late mother Violet to lunch at Fort Leavenworth. Mom would have been 97 years old on February 24, 2021.
Here are a couple of photos of us that came up on my photos feed today:
(1) our mom Violet,
and (2) me with our mom Violet.
She’s 87 years old in these photos and you can see lots of dark hair on her head.
I get my red/brown hair coloring and skin tone from her side of the family.
She never dyed her hair and neither do I.
I still have a full head of hair and not much gray.
SOME CANDID MOM PHOTOS OVER THE YEARS
Grandpa “Jack” (George Jackson)
My maternal grandfather was not bald, so current science says that’s likely why neither am I. Similar findings point to facts regarding specific genes contributing to my not having much gray hair now in the same manner as my parents did not when they were 65. Just the way it goes, I guess.
The signs of mortality are around us at every moment of each day. I’m not sure exactly when, but at some point in life we find peace with that fact and are not as afraid of death. Perhaps this is a counter to that human hyperarousal instinct and thus, inherently inoculates us against our primal fear of being mortal. Whatever the reason, it keeps most of us from staying in bed all day with the covers pulled up over our heads while waiting to die. Despite the challenges ahead for humanity and our nation, we move forward with optimism and confidence that another productive year is before us. We don’t chose to forget the past. We learn from it. We don’t forget our family members either – because they remain with us always in some context. So, the first post of 2021 is a “Roll Call” of our Burnett siblings and it’s dedicated to those family members of our generation who have gone ahead to that next dimension or plane of existence.
* Michelle Antoine did not live beyond a few days after being born premature and was buried in the US military cemetery near Toul-Rosières Air Base during our family’s military service tour in France. We never got to meet Michelle but love him. He would have made our sibling number 10 had he lived.
Nothing reminds us of our own mortality like losing a close relative or dear friend. Even the death of favorite celebrities can often be a sobering moment for most of us in this regard. Even when we do lose beloved family elders or when someone we have known personally for many years passes away after a long life and well-lived life, we are sad but generally able to find resolution at some point through our grief, if not total peace.
There seems to be another consideration for most of us and it’s after we have safely grown up into adulthood, established autonomous lives, and then begin losing our fellow adult siblings inevitably to death. For me personally, this consideration goes beyond a confrontation of one’s own mortality because that usually happens for people my age decades earlier. It seems to be more of a personally inescapable reckoning with one’s own life, in terms of what kind of person we have become, how many of our goals we’ve realized, and what type of legacy we will objectively leave behind. If we are still living we are still writing that history.
Of my nine siblings who lived through birth, grew up to be adults, and lived more life as autonomous people than children in their parents’ home, there are six of us still living at this writing in 2021. That’s pretty cool, especially since we are all over 60 years old now.
We lost our eldest brother Dean, who seriously dated several women but never married, or had children of his own, and by all accounts was a great person with a kind heart to many people in his life. A world class professional musician, he was a great mentor and friend to me after we got to know each other as adults.
We also lost our youngest brother Keith to suicide. Nothing prepares you for losing someone that way. It has taken most of these years since he killed himself for me to grieve and find peace personally – or as much as is possible. The fact is that many people die from suicide and like my youngest brother, most of those people suffer from the common and very treatable mental illness of depression.
However, the first sibling we lost was our dear sister Penny due to the effects of stage 4 lung cancer. Her death was clinically not unexpected. In this life she was a rascal and a very thoughtful person. It is an extremely sad experience to consider not being able to interact with her everyday. I still love and miss my little sister Penny dearly. Penny was the 6th of the 9 living children of Violet Lorraine Jackson Burnett and Clifford LeRoy Burnett.
6 OF 9
Penny and I were among the middle children in birth order and come from a relatively large sibling family. I am the exact middle of the 9 living children who grew up together in our parents home. Penny was the eldest of the last 4 of the 9. All of our siblings have been validated at this point as highly intelligent and talented individuals. Penny was always among the most brilliant persons within this group.
From my perspective, Penny was the quintessential little sister who idolized me as her immediate big brother – unless I was around, of course. And, our childhood together included the typical adventures a big brother and little sister share while growing up together. Terri and I saw this type of dynamic between our own son and daughter during their sibling years with us at home.
And, even when our parents divorced while we were both still high school students, Penny was back to back with me on the mission of keeping the family together while achieving that immediate goal of our younger siblings graduating. We became mini-parents by proxy, while still being just “kids” ourselves. We walked around as if nothing had changed in our family and took care of business. I helped out our single mother with two after school jobs to help buy food and Penny made sure that chores and homework were getting done.
Growing up together, we children were always taught to stand for something positive. Like many kids, we were vetted before we even left home. When I graduated and joined the Army two years later, our single parent home life was relatively stable. Penny and I stayed in touch during her senior year and beyond. I would send money home to help out the family and come home on leave whenever I could. Penny held it down, even after she went to Emporia State to school. Everyone graduated. We beat the odds. We had kicked ass indeed. We won.
Penny continued to be the “glue” that kept all of us together. She knew what everyone was doing and what was going on in their respective lives. Penny knew what kind of characters we had all grown up to become, she knew our strengths and she tolerated our weaknesses. I always thought that was cool. She could have gone on with her own singular life after high school graduation, like many siblings choose to do. We weren’t our siblings’ parents after all. However, I came to appreciate the fact that Penny made a deliberate choice to keep in close touch with me, no matter where in the world I was over the subsequent years. Penny also made a deliberate choice to get to know my wife, Terri, and our children, Micah and Lorri, from the very beginnings of our branch of the Burnett Family through and up to the day that she left to go ahead of us.
I was tempted to post a photograph of my sister with me. But, Penny gave of herself to me and so many people as well. So much so that we all felt the special love she had for each of us individually. So, I could not post a singular picture of she and I together alone and still accurately represent that enormous dynamic. However, I posted a picture of her house instead. It is a beautiful little carriage house to one of the historic mansions in Leavenworth. It was a mess when she and Bill first moved there. Penny worked on that house for the better part of the 10 years that she and her husband Bill were married. Inside and out. Hardwood floors to kitchen remodel. Lawn and landscape. She finally finished it and was ready to begin buying her furniture to fill the special lovely places that Penny’s imagination and dreams had created within that house. The only frustration or sign of complaint that I heard my sister utter was objective disgust at the facts that she had her house done and that she had become terminally ill. Not a negative comment, just matter of fact. Those who knew and loved Penny too, know that it would not have gone down any other way. The story of that house epitomizes the way Penny was in her relationships with most people. She could see the beauty and greatness in all of us, no matter what condition we were in at any given moment. Now, that is a big heart and is truly a great example of the essence of what love is about.
PHOTO that sister Mary Jane took of our late sister Penny with two of her nephews (Madison and Micah) at our mom’s apartment on West Ottawa Street in Paola.