The McKeller family -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

The McKeller family


Betty McKeller sits on her porch with her 2-year-old great-granddaughter, Aniyah. Her home, which has housed six generations of her family, will be repaired as part of the A Brush with Kindness program.

©Habitat for Humanity International/Ezra Millstein


One home, six generations

Betty McKeller’s grandfather built her home in 1949. Her grandparents and mother lived there. At 74, she is the matriarch of the house, watching over her son, a granddaughter and a great-granddaughter.

Six generations in one home.

“My daddy bought this land, but he died before we started building,” McKeller said. “I remember my grandfather building the house. He was a pastor, and a couple of his pastor friends helped him build it.”

The home’s foundation is still sturdy, but the exterior could use some help. During this October’s Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project, Habitat staff and volunteers will bring A Brush with Kindness to McKeller’s home. Repairs will include painting and porch work.

“I have some nice neighbors, and all my family has ever lived here. Lots of memories in this house—some good, some bad,” McKeller said. “I hope my grandchildren can use this house years from now.”

She is the last of five siblings who all once lived in the home, children of a steel-working father and a nurse’s assistant.

McKeller helps take care of her son, who is blind. For the past six years, she has also watched over her granddaughter, Kayla, and 2-year-old great-granddaughter, Aniyah.

McKeller’s daughter—Kayla’s mother—died six years ago. Thinking of her lost daughter still brings tears.

“She was so sweet,” McKeller said. “When she died, it just took something from me. I hate to think of it. But she was just a good child. She always used to help me clean the house, always came to check on me.”

She says it’s good to have her granddaughter with her. “It’s been rough on her, too,” McKeller said.

Aniyah is also a proven antidote for sadness. She just celebrated her second birthday with a party in the nearby park, and she knows how to keep her great-grandmother on their toes.

“Oh Lord, she’s on the move all the time,” McKeller said as she smiled and put a hand to her head.

Cooking is McKeller’s other favorite diversion. She worked as a cook at a couple of different Birmingham restaurants when she was younger. Nowadays, she’s the popular Sunday lunch stop for other family members, including two other daughters, who live nearby.

“On Sundays, all my children come over,” she said. “This past Sunday, I made turkey breast, dressing, macaroni cheese, turnip greens, potato salad and peach cobbler.”

She prays good cooking—and a stable home—will help the younger generations in her home as their futures unfold. Kayla hopes to go back to school at a local college and learn to be a physical therapist.

McKeller brings Aniyah out to the front porch and pulls the child up on her lap, facing out toward a few guests. Aniyah immediately draws her hands up over her eyes, a rare moment of reticence from the household’s energy-provider.

“Oh, don’t be shy now,” McKeller said. “What do you do around here, little girl? Tell our guests what you like to do.”

Aside from her enthusiasm, Aniyah’s biggest strength might be her stubbornness. She doesn’t feel like talking to guests today.

So McKeller answers for her: “I worry my Great-Grandma all to death, all day long!” She smiles as she says it.