January 31, 2012 § 1 Comment
Nancy Smith’s mother died when she was 7. The blow was softened by Rosie White, an African American woman who was hired for childcare and as the maid in Nancy’s household. They lived in New Orleans. Nancy had two older siblings and her father traveled a great deal. Someone had to raise these children. Nancy was particularly affected by Rosie’s loving spirit and generosity. She talks about this formative relationship and Rosie’s “other life” as well as Rosie’s granddaughter who was the same age as Nancy.
January 30, 2012 § 3 Comments
Me and It
by Dorothy Day Ciarlo
At some point in life, one has to talk about certain troubling things whether anyone wants to listen or not. For me, It began in childhood and has been a burden of pain and shame. I’m thinking I’d better talk about It now, and a good place to begin is with Idabelle. But first, let me tell a few things about my childhood.
Though time supposedly weakens memory, the Dickensian names of my childhood are forever there, waiting for a tug on the memory chain to come tumbling out. My schoolmates’ names all denoted something—Mary Ellen Finger, Nancy Jean Sharp, Janet Love-it, Jane Ann Cook, Uldene LongStretch, Basil Butler, to list but a handful. So, too, the places: Boil Park, where we went for picnics: Right-Sell, my elementary school, and Win-Field Methodist where my sister Peggy and I went to church every Sunday morning and evening. And the streets—Chest-er Street, Gain Street, Arch Street, Ring-o, stream out of my memory closet. But the Thing that clouded my childhood and in fact my whole life, didn’t have a name. In my own mind, I began to call it It. « Read the rest of this entry »
January 14, 2012 § 1 Comment
On December 1, 1999, Howell Raines, the Executive Editor of The New York Times from 2001 until he left in 2003 and contributing editor for Condé Nast Portfolio, published a remarkable tribute to the African American woman who raised him. It appeared in the New York Times Magazine. I present it in its entirety.
“…she taught me the most valuable lesson a writer can learn, which is to try to see — honestly and down to its very center — the world in which we live.”
GRADY SHOWED UP ONE DAY at our house at 1409 Fifth Avenue West in Birmingham, and by and by she changed the way I saw the world. I was 7 when she came to iron and clean and cook for $18 a week, and she stayed for seven years. During that time everyone in our family came to accept what my father called “those great long talks” that occupied Grady and me through many a sleepy Alabama afternoon. What happened between us can be expressed in many ways, but its essence was captured by Graham Greene when he wrote that in every childhood there is a moment when a door opens and lets the future in. So this is a story about one person who opened a door and another who walked through it. « Read the rest of this entry »
December 14, 2011 § Leave a comment
Hi, Felicia. I want to tell you about our black maid/caretaker/cook/second mother to me. Here are the facts. Ada Bell Young came to work for my family when I was two years old, in 1950. She lived with us. She was not married but had several brothers and sisters, most of whom lived in Laurens, SC. Bell owned the house they all lived in and had several pieces of furniture there from my Daddy, who owned a furniture store. The floors were covered in carpet sample squares, all different colors, and the walls were covered in wallpaper sample squares. I loved this house and thought of it as the “patchwork” house. Bell went to Laurens one weekend a month and otherwise lived with us. Bell did all of the cooking and cleaning for us as well as some yard work, which she liked. She grew peanuts in our back yard and beautiful flowers. Bell baby-sat me, took me on the city bus to town…to Woolworth’s…bathed me, fed me, etc., etc., etc. I have letters she wrote me when I was away at summer camp and when I was in college. Bell finished the third grade and then had to work in the fields and pick cotton, but she could read and write…just not well. I loved her dearly. My parents also loved her and heavily depended on her. They, however, grew up in another generation, in the Deep South, and could never get over their life-long prejudices, specifically against “people of color”. Therefore, Bell’s bedroom and bathroom were in the basement. When I was older I sometimes argued with them about Bell having to sleep in the basement, but only succeeded in making them defensive and angry. I miss Bell every day of my life and wish I could tell her how she meant to me. I look forward to reading your blog.
Linda Quinn Furman
November 28, 2011 § 1 Comment
I have the honor of introducing you to Tomaca Govan, a new friend and a possible cousin of mine. She is the Founder and Editor of the blog, Women Move the Soul. We met through LinkedIn. She is a colleague and cousin of a friend who had been very helpful to me in creating a documentary film entitled Shared History. Tomaca tells us some of the memories her mother shared with her about spending a few months as a maid in the World War II era.
My Mom was born in 1922. When she came of college age, she was on the waiting list for nursing school. While waiting, she was one of several maids working for a wealthy white woman in Maryland. She’s told me some very interesting stories about the few months that she worked there including how all the maids had to share their rations with this woman because during the war [WW II) people were given rations for food and things like that.
Even though the maids were required to share their rations with the Mrs., they were not allowed to eat the “luxuries” such as butter. My mother insisted on eating butter whenever she wanted to because they were her rations, so why shouldn’t she have some? The other maids did not and they would fuss at my mom for her lack of proper etiquette… : )
My mother was the youngest of 5. Her mother died when she was two. Her only sister was 7 years older and took care of my mom like she was her child. Her father remained a single parent for the rest of his life. My mother was his favorite and was very spoiled, sheltered and catered to. She was the baby so everyone protected her. That’s why she had a certain amount of feistiness when she started what was her first job as a maid.
But, she was there for less than a year because she was eventually called to school. And she was really glad about that because she had no interest in being someone’s maid.
Also, in terms of my mom working as a maid – she refused to call the woman’s daughter Miss ____, because the daughter was younger than she was. All the other maids kept telling her to call her Miss ___ so she wouldn’t get in trouble, but she was never reprimanded for that and stuck to her guns.
One of the maids was responsible for polishing the silver on a regular basis. She would make a grand presentation of pulling it all out and then polishing only a few pieces and putting everything back. The silverware was never used, so she felt it was a waste of time.
When my mother started working as a nurse, there was a white police officer who had been shot and brought to the Black hospital because it was the closest. They performed surgery and saved his life. The next day, his family and people from his job wanted to move him to a white hospital, but he insisted on staying there because “these people saved my life.”
Blacks and whites have a very rich history [together] and is something that his not taught in schools. I really feel fortunate to have met you and to have access to the information that you are putting on the internet. You give us light.