Tuesday, June 5, 2012

As with a Mother's Tender Hand

this is the last post about african-americans i remember from my childhood.  like many affluent women in the south, my mother always had a "woman" to help her around the house.  mother never called her helper a maid or nanny, but the main job of mother's helper was to take care of me and my younger brother.  i remember two of these women who took care of me when i was between the ages of four and ten.  one was named "jewel," and i loved her almost as much as i loved my mother.  i never knew why she left our employment; i don't think she left on bad terms, but i was crushed that she showed no interest in me when i saw her around town, because she was held such an important place in my heart.

jewel's successor was named "mary."  mary was a large, jolly woman who loved to play games with me, and mary and my mother became friends.  they worked together in the kitchen, shared the household chores, and played with me and my brother.  mary didn't come every day, so i was excited when one of mary's work days came.  i hated not being able to stay home all day with mary when i began school, though i loved going to school.  at lunch time, i would rush home so i could eat with mary, my mother, and my younger brother and hear about the activities of the morning.  after school, i rushed home to spend a few minutes with mary before my mother took her home.

occasionally, i was allowed to spend the day with mary and her husband mac on a weekend or during the summer.  theirs was the only black home that i visited in my young life, other than the time i went to check on john after he cut his toe mowing the lawn.  mary and mac lived in a small white house not too far out of town, but far enough from town to be considered "in the country."  they had a nice vegetable garden and raised hogs.  mac asked me once if i didn't want to come on "hog killing day," but i declined his invitation.  i couldn't imagine slaughtering an animal that one had raised, even though i loved pork.  i didn't want to be that close to discovering how the meat went from the hog pen to my plate.

mary was a wonderful cook and always had a special meal when i spent the day at her house.  i don't remember what she cooked for me on those occasions, but i do remember the happy conversation and the easy laughter between her and mac.  they both had hearty laughs, and i never saw either of them angry or unhappy.

as i got older, our family fortunes declined.  mother began to work part time in a local store and could no longer employ a helper.  we children were older, and there was less need for someone to help around the house, since we could fend for ourselves and didn't need such close supervision.  i'm not sure mother would have kept mary on, even had we been able to afford it, but i suspect that she would have because she enjoyed mary's company so much.  i missed mary and from time to time i rode my bike out to their house for a visit.  those visits were joyful occasions that continued until i graduated from high school and went away to college.  by that time, mac had passed away and mary decided to go live with one of her children.

i still miss mary and am certain that she missed me after our lives went their separate ways.  my prayer for each of us today is that we treasure our friends, regardless of the differences in our ages or stations in life.  may we know the joy of friendships that transcend the expectations of society and embrace those that come our way with an open and unprejudiced heart.  shalom.

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