Miss Polly returns to Georgetown once a week to go to the church she has attended for 80 years, and once a year to sell homemade apple turnovers to help raise money for the maintenance of the Mt. Zion Cemetery.
Miss Polly's sweet tart table was set up on O Street yesterday as part of the Georgetown Community Festival, which is sponsored by a coalition of seven Georgetown churches and civic groups.
Last Friday that coalition - which includes Miss Polly's Mt. Zion United Methodist Church at 1334 29th St. NW in Georgetown - won a court battle to keep Mt. Zion's cemetery from being sold to town house developers.
The cemetery in the 2500 block of Q Street NW is owned by the church, a predominantly black congregation dating back to the days when Georgetown was mostly black.
The decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals not to disturb the dead made Miss Polly, who is 85, very happy. The joy showed in her apple turnovers.
"Now what we have here," said Miss Polly - whose real name is Delphia Robinson but who says she prefers the nickname name because it was given to her by students in a Sunday school class she has taught for 62 years - "are some good, especially good, homemade apple turnovers that I personally made myself with apples, nuts and cinnamon and all the things Miss Polly uses so you know it's good because I don't mess nothing up."
It began to rain on Miss Polly, so she pulled a plastic bonnet over her head and told everyone. "Pray." Soon, she took ber bonnet off.
"I used to live across the street from the (Mt. Zion) cemetery," Miss Polly said. "I used to live in that place. All them funerals, back to back. All my friends, all my aunts, my uncles, sisters and all my brothers - except one who is Arlington.
She smiled, shook her head and wrung her hands. "Lord, it's been so many people. Let 'em rest in peace."
There are untold hundreds of blacks buried in the Mt. Zion Cemetery - slaves, freedmen and their ancestors who lived in Georgetown Festival have held street picnics to raise the $3,000 a year needed to get the grass cut and trees trimmed at the cemetery. Plans call for making it into a historical park to be kept up by the U.S. Park Service.
What Miss Polly enjoys about festival day more than making apple turnovers is seeing old friends who used to live in Georgetown - or at least that is what she used to enjoy about it. Blacks with ties to Georgetown are slowly passing on.
"People forget why these cute little bright little houses up here so tiny," she says, referring to the rows upon rows of renovated Georgetown town houses that were slaver quarters and other less expesnive dwellings years ago.
Miss Polly occasionally reaches into a brown paper bag and pulls out an apple turnover wrapped in wax paper and begins to explain to anyone who asks just how homemade this piece of pastry really is.
"Now, Mary, you know better than ask me something like that. I still make it from scratch like I always have."
Miss Polly's speech is clear and her voice is high pitched. "I belonged to the Mt. Zion Church all my life. I'm 85. I've been a Sunday school teacher for 62 years, still teaching. I was 5 1/2 years old when I first set foot inside that church. It was all colored around here then . . .
"I don't know what happened," Miss Polly said, referring to the changes that came. "I used to know but I got too old to remember. I forgot the truth, and I just don't worry about things like that anymore."
In the same steam of breath she continued, "It was until 33 years ago that I lived in Georgetown, and then we moved. Just one night, just all of a sudden the owner of home, who was white, sold it. So we moved to another house on P Street and the owner was colored and soon she sold it. And my daughter said to me, 'Momma, I'm gonna buy us a house." The house she bought is where Miss Polly now lives on Livingtown Street NW, near upper 16th Street.
Like the dwindling number of blacks who once lived in Georgetown, Sundays are about the only days that provide anyreason for blacks going back.
Ann Turpo, an organizer of the Georgetown Festival, says, "It is the only day when blacks and whites in Georgetown can seem to get together and get along."
"So much has changed. The ice house isn't even around no more." Miss Polly said. "Not much except old, I mean real old, friends around now," she laughed.
The host for the event then announced that a tour of the cemetery was about to begin.
"My oldest brother used to dig graves in there," she said. "Am I taking the tour? For what? It's raining and I don't need to be walking through that place. I've been sick and I'm 85. I can go visit that place anytime I get ready."