Since I am old, I have a lot of emotional baggage. More like steamer trunks, now that I think of it. (For the one or two underage readers I have, think Titanic, and if you are too young to have seen the movie, I’m afraid you’ll just have to google it).
Anyway, one of the biggest trunks is filled with memories of the three or four black women who took such wonderful care of me when I was a child. These women rocked me and held me and petted me and praised me. They sang to me and watched over me. They taught me how to iron handkerchiefs and pillowcases, and fixed me fried bologna sandwiches on white bread with miracle whip for lunch. (And in their spare time, they cleaned the house, changed the sheets, and did the laundry–which included ironing almost everything we wore). At the end of the day, they walked to the corner and got on a bus and went home. To their own families.
I’m embarrassed to say that it didn’t occur to me until my children were grown what it cost these women to leave their children to take care of me and clean our house. Growing up, it never occurred to me to wonder what their children were doing. These women were so nurturing, so affectionate, so loving. They told me they loved me and I believed them, but, now that I am older and just a bit wiser, I often wonder at what price?
I am pleased that I figured this out before I read THE HELP although it is one of my favorite books. And, I grew up in Texas, not the deep south, so it was a little different–but only in the details. Besides, the truth is that I was a child with that limited, innocent child view so I really have no idea how bad it was for these women that were so special to me.
I wish there were something I could do to repay them, some way I could give back to their children the time I feel I stole from them. But, time only runs in one direction–all I can do is honor them by remembering their gifts to me–the hugs, the attention, the sweet words, the generosity of spirit. I hope they would be proud of the woman I have become because much of what I learned about kindness and generosity and respect, I learned from them.
And here I am again–joy and pain all tangled up together again. Must they always come as a pair? Or is it just my experience that is like that? Do you think the double-sided nature of things is part of what it means to be truly conscious?
Seriously, I just make this stuff up, you know. I really want to know what you think:-).