Monday, March 1, 2010

Did "The Help" trigger memories for you?

In Tuesday's Observer, I'm writing about Kathryn Stockett's "The Help," a novel that explores relationships between African-American maids and their white employers in 1960s Mississippi. Stockett will speak to a sold-out luncheon at Queens University of Charlotte on March 9. For nearly a year now, her book has remained near the top of bestseller lists. Here's the start of the first chapter.

In my story, readers tell me how the book awakened powerful memories. Some African-American readers had family who worked as domestics, or they worked as maids themselves. Some white readers recall the black maids they regarded as members of their family.

Did the book trigger your memories? Do you think Stockett, a white woman, succeeded in telling this story? Let me know your thoughts.


Anonymous said...

It was 1959 and I had carelessly scheduled appointments with my pediatrician and obstetrician on the same day without enough time to go home between appointments --- so, I told my maid, Viola, that I would need her to go with me. We went first to my daughter's pediatrician; then to my obstetrician. Viola said she would wait in the car with my little girl but I told her it was too hot and she must come into the waiting room. This was in Tyler, Texas, and the oil-rich ladies were very stylish, even in their maternity wear. Large, black Viola stood out in her white maid's uniform. She kept asking my toddler to sit on her lap which she would do for brief periods but mostly wanted to walk around and examine the magazines. When my turn to see the doctor arrived, commented to the nurse that I had brought my maid into the "white" waiting room, forgetting that she might have been more comfortable in the "colored" waiting room. The nurse replied, "It's alright as long as she is watching your child".

On that day, I was able to put myself in her shoes and realize -- at lease to some extent -- how she must feel.

Glenda Loftin said...

I was closer to Pauline than my mother, who was unwell for years. We had no more money than Pauline. For $10 a week, Pauline took care of me and cleaned our house. She ate lunch with me. She used our dishes our bathroom. When I skinned my knee or stubbed my toe, she gave me "Mama Talk," as she called it. We bonded.
One Friday at quitting time, Mama said, "Tell Pauline good bye Glenda, she won't be back Monday..." She was to be married. It was a major trauma for me.
I grew up, married & moved away. I searched unsuccessfully for her for 40 years. Although I had by now moved 3 counties away and Mama had been in a nursing home and in the hospital, the day after Mama died, Pauline found me! She read my name and town of residence in Mama's Observer obit. She called me while I was out making Mama's funeral arrangements. We laughed & cried together. We had lived only 3 miles apart for 28 years (before I moved). She had worked at the same school my sons had attended.
She came to Mama's funeral, ate with my family, accompanied us to the cemetery, called me that night to give me Mama Talk. My brother, sister and I kept in touch. Roses for Valentine's and such. When my eldest son was killed, We were devastated. Pauline was among the first to call, with more Mama Talk. She died a little over a year later. My husband and I attended her visitation.
It was my good fortune to have had Pauline in my life. I loved her without measure. To think that she found me, she remembered Me for 40 years!

Pam Kelley said...

Thanks Glenda and anonymous for those wonderful stories. Priscilla Sawicki of Charlotte emailed me this memory:
"We lived in Charlotte for a short time
in the late 1960's. Our neighbors all had "help"--but I did not. I saw
no reason why I couldn't take care of my house and 4 children myself.
One day our 5 year old daughter went to visit a friend next door.
I asked if her friend's mother was home. Cindy replied, "No, but her
Other Mother was there."

Carol Baldwin said...

I enjoyed your article today about "The Help," I read it as background to the young adult novel I am writing which takes place in Charlotte in 1950. I'll be curious to see who posts comments here related to the book. I hope some African American women post their thoughts too!

Unknown said...

Julia was the rock of our family's life in Monroe, N.C. She was not our maid but another member of the family. She started work with my Grandparents in the 50's and was with our family for over 30 years. Our parents divorced when we were young and she was the glue that held us together. For me she was a mother and father in one.
I got the honor of holding Julia's hand when she died and spoke at her funeral for both families. We remain in touch with her family today and her pictures adorn our home and my office. I can go on and on about Julia stories and her grasp on life and history. She is a great example for all of us; she owned her own house, married once, voted in all elections and loved her family and church.
The Help makes me sad for families that did not realize the treasure in their life they did not know.

Anonymous said...

Wish I had seen your article. Our Sullivans Is., SC Book Club chose The Help for our Feb. read. A lively discussion ensued. Most of our families' homes were cared for by dear African American women and in some cases their men for heavy work. None in our group knew of shameful mistreatment shown in the book with exception of the low income they were paid & no social security. Their inate awareness of the harmony or lack thereof within our homes was amazing. Not to mention their love, encouraging words, strength, courage and good cookin' that carried us through from birth to marriage and beyond! Thanks, jl