August 23, 2011

For Me The Help Meant Love

The old black woman stood at the kitchen sink, hands submerged in soapy dishwater.  Stacks of used plates lay on the counter, surrounded by wadded cocktail napkins and glasses of partially drank punch.  She took her time with the dishes, cleaning them slowly, wiping at unseen specks, except when the hostess walked into the kitchen.  She then hurried through a few dishes and resumed to her previous pace when the hostess left.  Even though the lady told her she could go on home, the black woman continued, insisting, "There's too many dishes to leave for you."

Two hours after the party ended, the front door opened and young voices filtered down the hall.  Two teenage girls came giggling into the room.  They stopped, looked at the old woman, and ran to hug her.

Smiling, the woman dried her hands.  She didn't need to stay any longer.  She could leave.  She had seen the girls.


I wrote the above paragraphs as an assignment in my high school Creative Writing class years ago.  I'd forgotten it until I read The Help by Kathryn Stockett.  The old woman I wrote about was Bessie Stevens.  She wasn't our maid, but she helped care for the four of us as well as many other kids in the Clemson area.  Bessie worked for Clemson University, and in the evenings, she took care of children.  When Mom and Dad went out of town for several days, Bessie stayed with us.

I'll never forget her laugh.  It filled the house with such joy.  It was impossible to be upset or mad when she was there.  I remember forcing myself to stay awake until Mom and Dad came home on the evenings Bessie took care of us.  If I succeeded, I then begged to ride with Dad as he took Bessie home.  Something about curling up in the backseat while returning her home safely, gave me a secure and cozy feeling.

When we got older, we didn't see Bessie very often.  She came to our weddings, and we might run into her at some catered event.  The story I wrote in high school actually happened.  She insisted that Mom needed her help, but once my younger sister and I returned home that evening, Bessie announced she was ready to go home.

I sent Bessie a Christmas card every year well into my adult life, until one year, her granddaughter returned it with the news that Bessie was gone.  I still miss her.

I can't explain the love that forms between families and the black women that worked for them, but it's strong.  I don't doubt that the uglier accounts in The Help happened in parts of the South, but I'm  thankful I didn't live in a household that disrespected the women who gave so much of their love and care to our lives.

12 comments:

Vonda Skelton said...

What a sweet tribute to dear Bessie. You were blessed to have had her in your life.

gafromga said...

Barbara, I was raised in Michigan and wrote the city buses with lots of women who went to the suburbs for their jobs. i read the help and i remember many women who raised white families and were truly a part of their families. i haven't seen the movie yet but i will. I think that we all need to know more about our cultures. This is a was wonderful snippet of my african american heritage and like most cultures, it depicts the good, the bad and the ugly. Like you said, i still believe that there are more good stories all over the country than bad - north or south.

Barbara V. Evers said...

Georgia, I would love to hear some of the stories you heard over those years. The book was definitely an emotional ride to read. The movie will make you cry, but I feel like they softened the facts a little for Hollywood's ratings.

boblamb said...

I haven't read or seen it, but my wife Margaret has read it and can't wait to see it. I'll probably tag along. Reports from friends who've seen it say it tries too hard for shock value but is an OK movie.

Rebecca said...

What a lovely memory. Thank you for sharing!

Carole St-Laurent said...

I have not seen nor read The Help, but I intend to at least see the movie, even though the genre is not my cup of tea.

I see the whole culture of the south from an outside point of view, as I never grew up in a mixed race neighborhood in Canada. Later on, as immigration grew, Montreal welcomed Haitians from the Caribbean, and others from the French speaking countries of Africa. As a result, the city's culture became richer, with more textures and flavors.

Charlotte said...

What a fitting tribute to Ms. Bessie Stevens. I remember her with much admiration and affection.

Cheryl said...

Hello, I'm a fellow campaigner in the same fantasy group and I thought I would stop by and introduce myself. I enjoyed reading your post and was warmed by the respect and love you show for Bessie.

L.G.Smith said...

What a beautiful memory. I haven't yet read or seen The Help, but it's on my list.

Thanks for stopping by my blog to say hi during the Campaign. :)

Daina Rustin said...

Such a lovely story. I have a next door neighbor that has a similar place in my heart that Bessie has in yours, she didn't work for us but she took care of me when I was little, and I love her very very much.

Anyway, I just wanted to stop by and thank you for visiting my blog. I'll be reading more of you in the future!

Daina Rustin said...

I forgot to say everything I intended ^_^;

You commented about short stories. I just wanted to mention that I mostly write them for practice, until I find my own style and voice. I wanted to learn a few things about writing before I get into something longer, hopefully this way there'll be lot less to edit in the end :D I also cheat a little, since the characters I mostly write about in those short stories are the same ones I plan to use in a novel some day, so it also serves as a character development practice of sorts. If you're interested, there are a few posted on my homepage: www.mystictreehouse.com.

Crystal Collier said...

Hello Barbara! The Help is definitely on my reading list...so in about a year...

Another fantasy fanatic stopping in to say "hi", and welcome to the campaign trail. Wonderful blog post.