Wednesday, August 3, 2011

CHILDHOOD MEMORIES: Our "Help"

Where to begin! I just finished reading The Help. I hope that some of you have read this book. If not, please give it a read. I found it to be a very true-to-life story for many of us who lived in the South during that time period (the 1960's).

I was born in Fort Worth, Texas, in 1956. My sister was born 2 years earlier, here in Colorado. Our father was in the Air Force at that time. He was stationed in Little Rock, Arkansas. We lived in Little Rock, and then moved to Russellville, Arkansas. We were probably 2 and 4 at the time.

Now, at this time, my Dad had divorced my birth mom and he had remarried. The marriage was not the best in the world. He had to work all week at the base in Little Rock. He would come home to Russellville on weekends. I think our stepmom wasn't really ready to have a ready- made family.

They had fights, arguments, shouting matches, and such when they were together. My sister and I would set a foot or two from the TV and crank up the volume so we could not hear them. I know that this sounds really harsh, but I think that they did the best that they could. But my sister and I think that they were just not really ready to settle down and raise a family. So, the stage is set.

My sister and I shared a bedroom, just like a lot of kids have had to over the years. We were living in a little pink house in Russellville. There were kids to play with and lots of things to do. Also, a lot of things to get into.

Our Dad had bought a beauty salon for our stepmom, so we had to have someone come to our house to watch over us while she was at the salon working.

I wish that I could remember Nanny's name. She was black and overweight. She took care of us. Boy, could she cook.

Every morning before our stepom left for work, our breakfast consisted of a bottle of CocaCola and we each got a slice of cinnamon bread. Then we were to set on the couch after our stepmom would leave for work and wait for our nanny.

I'm sure that we didn't set for more than 10 minutes or so, if that. Almost as soon as she left and the door closed behind her, my sister and I were on the move. We were hungry, and the soda and toast was not enough to two little hungry tummies.

We would run into the kitchen. I would open a drawer and get out two spoons. My sister would pull out drawers to make steps so she could climb to get up to the cupboards, and she would get two cereal bowls. Then we would run out to the back porch where there was a big bag of dry dog food for our dog, Snowball.

We would scoop dog food into our bowls, then we then would come back in the house and my sister would get the milk out of the fridge and pour it into our bowls. We would wolf down our "dog cereal," as we called it. Then my sister would climb up on the counter, rinse the bowls and spoons, and she would put the used bowls on the bottom of the stack of clean cereal bowls, and I would put the spoons under all of the other spoons, then we'd run and get back on the couch to wait for the lady who watched us to arrive.

Our new nanny caught us getting our dog cereal once, and from then on she would fix us breakfast every day, sometimes bringing it with her from home. She cleaned our house every day. And she always had something for us to do.

At lunchtime, we had the best things to eat. She made us fried chicken, with watermelon for dessert. Her chocolate cake was the greatest! We grew to love her, and she grew to love us.

She was like a mother to us -- only better. She made over us just like we were her own.

Once, we had to go into town. We got on the bus. She placed me and my sister in a seat at the front of the bus, then she went to the back of the bus to find a seat for herself, since she was not allowed in the front.

We had maybe gone two blocks when the bus stopped to take on some more people. This guy, whom I can only say looked like a bum, sat next to us on the same seat. Well, he scared the crap out of me and my sister. We jumped out of our seat and ran to the back of the bus to climb up into our nanny's lap.

The bus driver stopped the bus, and came back to speak to Nanny. He told her that we had to set up in the front of the bus with the rest of the white folks. Nanny told the bus driver that we were scared of the guy that was in our seat. The driver told her that we either had to sit up in the seat we had been in, or we would have to get off the bus.

So the three of us got off the bus and walked the rest of the way.

One time, our Dad came home early. Nanny was there, cleaning up the house. She was nervous, 'cause it was the first time she would have seen our dad. Right before he came home, she was dusting the coffee table and she had dropped this real big heavy ashtray on it. It left a huge scratch, and you could see the bare wood. Well, she took a couple of cigarettes, unwrapped them, and put the tobacco in her mouth. It seemed that she had that tobacco in her mouth for an hour, but it was probably just a few minutes. She took that wad of tobacco out of her mouth, put it on that big scratch, and she rubbed and rubbed. Soon you couldn't see the scratch! She swore us to never tell, and we didn't! That is, not until about 25 years later. Dad had never known. She could have lost her job with us, I'm sure, if our stepmom had found out.

My dad and stepmom divorced after just a short time, and the three of us moved to Colorado. But I would think of Nanny often.

When I was 9 or 10, we had to make a trip to Arkansas. Our former stepmom took us to see Nanny. We were so glad to see each other! She made over us, just like she did when we were small.

She was a lot older and grayer. But she still had that light in her eyes that she always seemed to have when she would walk in our door and see us all those years ago.

I don't know how many kids she took care of over the years. My sister and I have often wondered whatever became of her. She loved us, and we loved her.

All these years later? I'm sure that she has passed on. And I'm just as sure that she, and all of the black ladies who took care of kids all over the South, are in heaven, taking care of all of the little ones.

I plan to find her name and where she is buried. I'll go visit her at her gravesite. Thanks to her, my sister and I were able to survive a real rough spot in our lives. I am forever grateful.

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