As what happens to all the amazing people in our lives, Mary Louise “Tip” Quinton of San Domingo, Wicomico County, Maryland, passed away, August 4, 2013, some 92 years since being born into a sharecropping life. She was a Stanley, quite a family name in the area. And I remember a number of years ago showing up at her home in San Domingo (sometimes without notice) to chat with her, to learn more about her life and about San Domingo, an historic rural community formed by freemen alongside slaves in the area, located between Mardela and Sharptown.
“Tip” is likely now scolding me from Heaven for posting these photographs, and I admit I certainly wouldn’t do it if she were still with us. I took only two photographs of her back when I was making a pest of myself. The first was taken on the sly, of her looking out at the back of her property where she held all sorts of animals, practically a zoo. She had even invited groups of children to visit her brood. She loved that back yard almost as much as her children and her independence.
She had an amazing pride and sense of self that awed me. I recall talking with her at her kitchen table shortly before the first election of President Obama, asking her who she was voting for. Of course I knew, but I wanted to hear her say it. She refused to tell me. When pressed, she told me she never tells who she votes for; and although she didn’t exactly explain why, I somehow knew she regarded the vote as a special gift that she believed to be as private as a prayer.
Tip had told me she was born in the above-shown Rider tenant house. She took me to see it and I photographed it, not realizing that soon it would be torn down. As I took the photograph, she gazed at it as she seemed to do at everything, with quiet contemplation. She had told me that although the family was treated well on the Rider farm during her time there, living in a tenant house was horrid to her and she vowed to never EVER again live on a white man’s property. Not only was it a practical thing (always being beholden to work and never having enough money), but it was also a pride thing. The second photo I took of Tip equally amuses me, for I had asked to take the picture and she begrudgingly allowed me this. It was almost like she knew it had to be done, for history sake, but she was also telling me wordlessly, “Ok, take it if you must.”
She accomplished her goal by marrying a Quinton, landholders from way back. The land, the property, meant so much to her. She told me that she didn’t go to high school because her family didn’t have the small amount of money needed to pay the gas for the bus ride into Salisbury. I could see from her eyes that saddened her. I knew her children went to college, a major family accomplishment, so I asked her what would she have studied had she gone to college. She thought about it a few seconds and said astronomy. It was evening when she said it, and she looked up at the stars, saying how she would spend hours looking at them. I had commented on the many happy-sounding birds in her back yard, and she told me that they talk, that she listens to them and it was clear to her that they had conversations.
I so enjoyed visiting Tip, whether or not we talked about the past. There weren’t many visits, but they were all special. One time several of her children (some lived near by and others were visiting from out of the area) gathered around that kitchen table, everyone chattering away, giving me a small glimpse into Tip’s life, imagining all the earlier gatherings that circled that table. Tip just looked on at the whole scene, with happiness in her eyes. When I first met her I asked why she was called “Tip.” She said as a child she ran around on her tippy toes. So now, I like to think of her tiptoeing around in Heaven, scolding me for this article. — Linda Duyer