Saying Thank You
February 6, 2012 § 2 Comments
Jane Dalrymple-Hollo and Dezzie McIntosh grew up in rural north Mississippi, but in different generations. Jane was from a well-to-do white family and Dezzie was a black domestic servant in Jane’s household throughout most of her childhood. Their relationship deepened after Jane spent a long evening in Dezzie’s living room in December, 1999, and recorded an informal oral history in which she asked Dezzie to describe her childhood, her relationship with Blues music and her family life.
Jane and I had been friends for several years, but in March of 2010 we happened to meet at an art opening, and I told Jane that I was ready to begin working on the “Just Like Family” documentary. Unfortunately, Dezzie had passed away the year before, but Jane and I had already agreed that the relationship between the two of them would be an interesting one to explore. To my amazement, I received a call from Jane the very next day. “Felicia, you won’t believe who’s here in Boulder, right now–Dezzie’s son, Pierce McIntosh.”
Pierce, a large congenial man in his fifties, was a natural in front of the camera. He said he knew he would call Jane when he got to Colorado, but he didn’t know what to expect. Jane told Pierce about the “Just Like Family” project and they both agreed to let me film them as they reminisced about Pierce’s mother. After a little searching, Jane came up with the cassette tape she had recorded with Dezzie ten years earlier, and I was able to film Pierce and Jane as they listened to Dezzie’s familiar voice. The day before, I had interviewed Pierce, and he told me that, to him, the most important thing about Jane’s relationship with his mother was that she had thanked Dezzie.
It is clear from these segments that Jane and Pierce are fond of each other and listening together to the recording of Dezzie talking about her life seemed to deepen their connection. In these scenes, you’ll see them respond to the poignant, funny and sad incidents in the life of the woman who essentially raised them both, but in very separate circumstances.
After Pierce returned to Mississippi, Jane looked at the video of his interview. From it, she told me that it gave her new insights into Dezzie’s real life–with her own husband and children. We will continue the exploration of these relationships with an interview of Jane. We will also provide an audio file of the oral history and a letter Jane wrote about this special relationship that was read at Dezzie’s funeral. Stay tuned.
“Just Like Family” seeks to provide a more comprehensive portrait of African American women who raised white children–to give name and place to people whose history may not be recorded, whose impact on US culture and white people might not be recognized. Few of these relationships between whites and their African American caretakers have been documented; the relationships have not be acknowledged. “Just Like Families” offers a space within which to tell the stories of these caretakers from both black and white perspectives in order to honor and give thanks to these unsung mother/caretakers.