Thursday, April 26, 2012

Second Row, Piano Side: The Help

Her name was Agnes, but we called her "Doll." 

Mama had to work and  Daddy worked as many jobs as he could find to help "make ends meet." 

In 1962 when I was almost two years old, I met Doll.  She had smooth, brown skin like milk chocolate.   I thought she was beautiful.  She loved us and we loved her.   I didn't understand why she didn't eat at the table when we ate.  We'd beg her to eat with us, but she'd say, "I like to eat by myself."  When Daddy picked her up for work, she always rode in the back seat of the car.  I didn't like it that she had to sit by herself so my sister and I would take turns sitting with her.  I asked Daddy, "Why does Doll have to sit in the back?"  He said, "People may talk." 
Doll dipped this brown stuff that she's pack in her bottom lip.  Sometimes it would run in the corners of her mouth.  She's say, "Come on, child.  We'ze goin to the store and I'm gone buy you some candy."  She always did...along with this little tin can of something that she wouldn't let me put in my mouth.  I said, "Why can't I eat your candy?"  She said, "Child, that be my medicine."

We loved us some Doll.  She had something that made her really sick from time to time.  One day me and Daddy went to get her for work and she didn't come out.  Daddy went in the house and found her groaning.  Our doctor went to her house to see what was wrong.  Daddy said, "She has Sickle Cell Anemia."  She was in so much pain that I could hear her crying from the car.  I cried.  I thought she was going to die.

Mama said, "Don't ever call Doll a 'maid'.  She is our housekeeper and your babysitter." 

Doll cooked breakfast everyday.  We'd have grits, eggs, sausage and biscuits every morning.  She ask us how we'd like our eggs.  I'd say, "Runny." She knew what that meant.  In the afternoon when I came home from school, we'd eat left over fried lace cornbread.  I liked it with ketchup.  Sometimes she'd make homemade apple tarts and I'd help.  She'd let me fold the sides over and use the fork to make little marks in the hand-rolled dough.  Doll taught us how to iron.  We had to iron everything-even Daddy's underwear.

My sister was born in 1965 and I thought Doll loved her better than she did me.  I was jealous.  My sister was "a sweet baby,"  she'd say.  I began to compete for her attention and mama would let her spank me when I needed it.  She spanked me all the time, but I could outrun her.  Mama and Daddy fully trusted Doll with our lives.  We knew that if we were unkind to her, we'd get a tearing up when they got home. 

My Baby Sister and Baby Brother, 1969
The racial tension in the south began to rise in the early 70's.  When I was in the 5th grade the schools combined and there was no more segregation. There were playground riots on both sides.  My friends and I would cheer and chant, "Two, four, six, eight, we don't want to integrate."  There would be all out war.  It was a dog-eat-dog, I'll-show-you, territorial fighting zone.  One day I wore my new "maxi" dress to school that mama had made.  One of the "black" boys, stood on the hem while I was walking.  It ripped the dress at the empire waist.  Two girls of a different color, held my bathroom door shut and would not let me out.  I'm ashamed to say that I brought those prejudices home with me.  I knew that Doll loved me and I loved her, but I was angry at the social issues that were forced upon us.  I took it out on Doll.  In my anger, I called her a "maid." My daddy heard me and he took his belt to me.  I got the worse whipping I have even gotten.  I heard Doll cry and I cried too.  It hurt me that I had hurt her.

The day before my baby brother's funeral, I was in my room with the door shut.  I heard a shrill that sent shivers down my spine.  I said, "What was that?"  Someone said, "Doll just found out about the accident."  At 14 years old, I sat in her lap and she held me while we both cried.  She was there to take care of my sister, but I think we were there to take care of her too.

In later years, I was able to tell Doll how sorry I was for all that I put her through during those difficult years.  She understood.  She babysit my children from time to time.  She'd always say, "Now, you call me when you need me.  You got them chillin to be tendin to.  You don't need to be worrying about cleaning no house."

Doll was a part of our family until she died.  She was seated with the mothers at our weddings.  She'd say, "You always thought I loved Beverli and Brian more than I did you, didn't you?"  I'd say, "Back then, yes, I guess I did."  She'd say, "You know I loved you."  I knew she did...




  1. Such a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing. Bonnie

  2. This is a touching story of what a family really is-much more than just blood ties and marriages.

    I have to take issue with your statement that racial tensions began to rise in the early 70s.

    Emmitt Till, a 14 year old boy, was murdered in a gruesome act in Mississippi in 1955. In 1964 three civil rights workers, Andrew Goodman, James Chaney,and Michael Schwerner were also murdered in Mississippi in June 1964. Their murderer was not tried and convicted until 41 years later. The March for Freedom and Jobs (also called the Civil Rights March) on Washington, DC in August 1963 was the largest demonstration in our country's capital. The Selma to Montgomery March stretched over three bloody weeks in March 1965.

    Segregation academies ( began to open beginning in the 1950s as a result of Brown v Board of Education. These schools were begun so that white parents could send their children to school where racial diversity would not be an issue.

    Segregation academies were begun in Washington County in 1969 as it became clear to white parents that public schools would have to desegregate. You may already know that my mother-in-law was among teachers who integrated the year before students did, and reflects the values which permeated my husband's upbringing.

    We still have deep racial divides in our country, and especially in the South. We have so much to work towards to remove barriers which result in our children being hungry, our seniors choosing between their medicines and paying the rent, and people who are judged by the color of their skin. I want to be part of that change and work on it every day, often in small ways, which, in the end, are the way we make progress in our country.

  3. Katherine,
    I appreciate your knowlege of our history. I simply write from my heart and this post was written from the perspective of a child growing up in the late 60's and 70's-not to disrespect those who fought and died for their rights.

  4. The first church my father ever pastored was a black church in Pasadena. While in Cali last month my sister and brother visited it with me...

    I remember only a few things...scooting down the altar while my daddy was preachin' because I'd run away from the black lady caring for me....

    Great post~thought provoking!



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