Sophia-Bill Road: The Land That Gave Us Who We Are

Alisa Crumpler-Callender is a homemaker (aka CEO of the Callender household) located in Smyrna, Georgia. Married for 21 years, Lisa has two beautiful children. She grew up in a tight knit family, which included her maternal grandmother Lydia Dell Bryant. She and her siblings spent summers in Cedar Creek, North Carolina with her grandmother and her 12 siblings and their families. It was a reprieve from growing up in Newark, New Jersey. On Sophia-Bill Road Lisa experienced what it was like for her family to live self-sufficiently and to center their lives on the support system that sustained them. One of Lisa’s fondest memories was accompanying her grandmother on her daily walks to visit with her kinfolk on the family’s property. Those early experiences, combined with Lisa’s mother and aunt recreating something similar for their families in New Jersey left an indelible mark. Her grandmother didn’t have to talk about it—she showed them the value of family in how she valued family. “I think that really what has made me and my siblings who they are and my mom who she was, is who they [her grandmother and siblings] were, what they showed us.” They cultivated safety, economic self-sufficiency, and love amidst Jim Crow segregation on Sophia Bill Road—named after Lisa’s great, great, great-grandparents. Lisa not only works to continue the family tradition of keeping the family close, but also to keep the land in the family. Lisa understands the importance to as her grandmother lamented, “not let the White people take the land.” After years of working as a domestic she didn’t want the sacrifices she and her siblings, their parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and so on made to purchase and hold onto the land to be in vain. Lydia Dell Bryant lives through her granddaughter, who is now a mother, “We are talking about now rooting them because you have to stay rooted. If you don’t that’s where it breaks. You’ve got to keep every generation rooted. And the way you do it is you give them something to come back to.” Lisa is a beautiful outgrowth of this legacy as she prioritizes her family above all else.

Listen to the interview here:

Being a Mother:

Many days in over the past 13 years I’m like, “Okay it’s time to get back to work.” And then something will draw me right back to where I am. Like, “You know what? You are at work. You are where you’re needed most.” Even though now that my kids are older I try to kind of want to make this thing look a little differently, maybe reach out and do a little bit more things with my life that’s personal to me. What I do realize that right now with a high schooler and a middle schooler that they need my focus and attention probably more now than ever. My goal is always to be fully accessible to my kids and my husband and my home.

So, on a daily basis that could look like anything from clearing out junk in the house to volunteering at the kid’s schools to going and volunteering somewhere outside of school just giving back to the community. It could look like anything on a daily basis honestly. It could be waking up at 6 o’clock going to bed at 2 o’ clock in the morning.

Let me thank that man that makes it possible. Mr. Callender who has made it possible for the past 13 years from a financial perspective for us to able to run our ship the way it works for us. Not necessarily what works for everybody but it works for us.

Growing Up With Her Grandmother:

I did not grow up seeing her every day. She lived in the Carolinas. We lived in New Jersey, but we did see her every summer and there was nothing we looked forward more to as kids than to go down and visit our grandmother every summer. So, that’s what we did.

When we visited grandma it was definitely you knew you were at grandma’s house. Because like I said she was a grandma. She was just a real, authentic grandma. Did all the things that you would expect from a grandma that doesn’t see her grandchildren everyday. You just cuddled up with her and she loved on you and she couldn’t get enough. She just couldn’t get enough of loving on you.

Sophia Bill Road:

My grandmother lived on a family road. This road eventually got named after my great, great, great-grandparents. But all of her brothers and sisters grew up on this road. It’s about not even a quarter-mile stretch of a road, but all of her brothers and sisters lived on that road at one point in time. So, when we visited the Carolinas, Fayetteville, Cedar Creek as it’s known every summer we didn’t just get to visit our grandmother we got to visit all our great aunts and uncles too because they all lived within walking distance of each other.

But my grandmother one of the stories that I remember the most about her is her commitment to not having her two girl’s lives look any different than any of their cousins that they grew up on that road with. Everybody else keep in mind were with their partners, they were married, but she was the only one on the road who had children that did not have a husband. So, she worked extra hard.

I remember my mom telling me stories about how she and her sister would run to the road when they knew their mom was on her way home from work and they would just sit there at the end of the road and wait for her to turn that corner because she worked a lot. She had the support of her brothers and her sisters to help take care of her kids. They watched her kids while she worked but she had to work a lot to make up for not having that man around. That’s all she knew. That’s what she knew. She knew taking care of herself even after she got remarried.

She packed up my mom and my aunt and she took them to Harlem and they stayed up there for about two years while grandma worked for two years and made a lot more money than she was making down in Cedar Creek. What she said, “Working for white folks.” That’s what they did. Cleaned homes and stuff for white people. She took them to Harlem. So, they got the great experience of living in Harlem for two years. But her home and heart was always in Fayetteville, Cedar Creek. So, she ended up back there after two years.

They lived on a road that was all family to the point where they did their own farming. So, they had their own food. They didn’t have to travel into town to go to grocery stores a lot. One of my great aunts had a candy store. So, they had everything kind of self-contained right there on that road. They didn’t really have to leave off that property to do anything. So, I think what my mother was saying is that she didn’t experience it [racism] because they just wasn’t confronted with it.

Best Grandmother Memories:

When we would travel South one of the things I remember most is my grandmother every morning would get up, she would get up, she would do whatever she had to do and she would say, “Well, I’m going on my walk now. I’m going to sisters.” That’s what they called it. They called each other sister whatever their first name is. Her sisters called her sister Lydia or Sister Dell. They called her by her middle name sometimes.

We would take those walks with her. When we were down there for that week or two weeks that we were there we would take that walk. She would literally go from one house to the next. She would visit every last one of her sisters and brothers. I don’t know if it was just because I was a kid, but it seemed like it took from the time she went to the time we got back the sun was going down.

It could be a quick stop or you could sit there and somebody done baked something and they are going to give you something to eat. And then they haven’t seen her grandkids so they want to know what her grandkids are up to. But it’s one of my fondest memories taking those walks with my grandmother every year along that dirt road to visit all of her brothers and sisters.

I used to love to sit down and hear the stories that they would tell. Because each house she went into was a different story, a different experience. They were brothers and sisters, but they were all different. They all had their own families, their own family units, and stuff. I used to love walking the road and hearing those stories. My mother used to love it too because she would take the walks with us. We all would take the walk together.

But that was grandma’s house and we did a lot of things there. We were fortunate because we got to see a different way of living. When you grow up in the city it’s very different than when you grow up in the South. When we went back home we saw things that we didn’t see every day back in the city like grandma canning vegetables and literally going into her cupboard pulling things out of a jar that she made herself. She know we used to love her spaghetti. She used to make the best spaghetti. So, she always had that ready for us when we came there. Thinking back on it was phenomenal. She was a phenomenal grandmother.

Grandmother Imparted Lessons:

Compassion and support: I always ask my mama, I say, “Did she get mad at you when you got pregnant?” She says she was disappointed like any parent would be. My momma always said that her mother said, “You’re smart, you’re bright and I just wanted more for you. But you got this baby now you got to take care of this baby.” My grandmother supported her and my father. My father came to live with them until they actually moved out of her house and moved and migrated North to Newark, New Jersey. But my grandmother was always there. My grandmother was always in the picture.

Family is everything: I don’t think they realized how amazing that they had it, being able to be there with each other and be each other’s support system because that’s really what they were to each other. They were a support system. Because of that, she was very big on family and she passed that down, she passed it down to my mom. I think Rob will tell you that my family is very, very big on family. We have family reunions and we do everything in our power to try to keep them going.

That’s how we were raised. That’s how my grandmother was. If my mom needed her up in New Jersey she would come running to Jersey. That’s how she was. She was never too busy for her kids. My mom got sick once and my grandmother came up to Jersey for two months and stayed with us and took care of us while my mom got better. That’s what grandma did. That’s who she was.

This is what grandmother showed … She didn’t teach us, she showed us. All of those summers down there taking those walks. She didn’t have to say anything she just showed us what family means. When she went into to my Aunt Maisy’s house and said, “Hey sister Maisy.” She was showing us what it is to love your sibling and to receive that love back….You don’t find 13 siblings that genuinely loved each other the way they loved each other. It was so genuine. 

Keep the land in the family: I tell Rob all the time, “I got to keep these taxes paid up no matter what.” I’m running around gathering up money from my siblings I’m like, we got to pay these taxes.” That’s how it is. All of us have a piece. My aunt her kids they got their piece that they are taking care of. Then we have sort of general family land that nobody is really responsible for, but the family came together and every other year we collect enough money to maintain the taxes on that land. Even if we are never doing anything with that land we keep in our mind that they worked so hard.

I don’t know how they attained this land, but whatever it was it was so important to her that she would preach it with consistency to not let anybody get this land, not let anybody get this land. So, I’m teaching my kids that now, “If something happens to me you got to pay these taxes.” I take them in on the computer and everything. ‘It’s just this easy. This is how they get paid. But the taxes have to be paid because if the taxes aren’t paid then they can come and get it. It’s real simple. You don’t pay the taxes it’s not your land anymore. You know?’

Funniest Moments:

She was a diehard Christian woman. I will never forget one year we came down and we were young, I guess I was13, I guess in her eyes we weren’t too young. I think I was about 12 or 13. My brother was 15. But my mother did something that was in her eyes like the craziest thing. She had not gotten us baptized yet. My grandmother did not know it. When she found out that me and my brother hadn’t been baptized she called up the preacher and was like, “We need to get these kids baptized this weekend” [Laughter]. It wasn’t even baptism week.

I was the kind of kid like, “Momma I don’t want to get baptized down here. I don’t want to do that.” First of all, I was scared of water so I was like, “I don’t want to do this.” My mother, she was the kind of person that was like if my kids don’t want to do it … “I hear you, momma. I’m going to get it done but we are not going to do it now but I promise you I’m going to get it done.” And sure enough, as soon as she got home she got us baptized. That was the kind of grandma she was. She was like, “These children are going straight to hell. You better get them baptized.”

Grandmother’s Legacy Living Through Her Today:

We had a reunion in July and I was very adamant about all of my nieces and nephews and great nieces and nephews coming to this reunion because some of them had never been to Cedar Creek. I’m like, “This is wrong. Y’all got to go to Cedar Creek. You can’t be a Melvin and not go to Cedar Creek. You got to go.”

So, I forced the issue and got a good caravan of them down there this past July and it was amazing just to see my nieces and nephews and some of my great nieces and nephews step into that dirt where my grandmother’s house was. They don’t know how I felt to have them in the backyard of my grandmother’s house and out there by that old chicken pen that she had out there. Because a lot of the stuff it’s just the way she had it. Just the way her and her husband had it. It was amazing. Just to be able to have that to come back to.

We are talking about now rooting them because you have to stay rooted. If you don’t that’s where it breaks. You’ve got to keep every generation rooted. And the way you do it is you give them something to come back to. …I could feel my grandmother because that’s what my grandmother loved.

I remember my oldest brother coming to me one day he was like, “You know what you’re going to be? You’re going to be like the CEO of somebody’s company when you grow up.” I was like, “No.” He said, “Wow, really? What do you think you’re going to be?” I said, “I will probably work in corporations for a little while but then I just want to have a family and take care of my family. That’s what I want to do.”

But that’s what I always saw. I saw my mother, even though my mother had to work, she always put her family first. She always took care of her family. She stayed by our side. She didn’t care about going out. She was a young mom. She didn’t care about going out in the street partying and being with friends. The most important thing to her was being there with her kids. For me, it’s just like, “I brought you all here, y’all didn’t ask to be here.” So, for me knowing the world that we live in and every day I tell you no lie especially with my daughter I get these signs that says your accessibility to her is the most important thing in the world.