Miss Mary

The Help digs up memories

Last summer I couldn’t put the book The Help down.  It was my childhood on some level in Ottawa, Illinois.  My grandmother employed Daisy.  I never knew her last name.  Daisy was a wonderful woman.  She cooked the very best meals.  She taught me the finer points of how to use plastic bags to store everything and some practical things too like polishing the silver.  Daisy was the housekeeper / babysitter for my grandparents and she was black.

We lived with my grandmother till my mother was released from prison for some stupid thievery she pulled.   What mother takes her kids out of a warm environment to a god forsaken hotel in the middle of the night to be picked up by the police?  We were so scared.   I loved my mother but she had serious issues.  I knew that and I was nine.

I remember distinctly the times in 1965. I was asked to change my friend at the Catholic school by my grandmother because she was black.  What my grandmother failed to realize was that she was my only friend at the time.  How do you give up your only friend?  I was shunned by other children because my mother was in prison.  How do you give up the tiny bit of happiness you have in your life? 

It was an awful time.  Daisy worked for Granny for years.  My brother, at that time, did or said an awful thing to Daisy one day that set her on fire.  She quit because of it.  I remember her standing in the kitchen doorway crying and saying she was a proud black woman and didn’t need to be treated in such a way.  I hurt for her.  I damn near killed my brother.

My grandmother was able to get her to come back, Lord knows how.  My grandfather certainly took care of my brother but what he learned wasn’t appropriate.  What he learned was to keep his mouth shut in mixed company.  What I learned is that we had to change.

I’ve had to shut that awful time period out of my life until you read and watch The Help.   I still get that awful feeling in my heart. I have to believe, and in our lives, we changed the way we think as well as having brought our children up to not seek differences in people.  That we are all one.    

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