Wednesday, October 24, 2012

help wanted

...continued from 'Collecting Stories' - project to preserve family stories:

{Kay, tell me about the black maid you had growing up in 1950s Atlanta}

Her name was Mae Johnson.  Mae was a very sweet person.  She had several children that would have probably been about Sue's and my age I guess.  She rode the bus from Griffin, Georgia to Atlanta, and rode a trolley (sort of a city bus) out to Beecher Road to Mount Airy Drive where we lived. 

I remember coming home from school one day and finding her in the kitchen, she was ironing, like she often was.  I was talking with her, I don't remember what the subject matter was, possibly she asked me if I had had a good day at school, but my answer was, "Yes ma'am."  

That was the trigger, the conversation stopped right then and there.  She put the iron down and she looked straight at me, and she said, "You don't call me ma'am." 

(We of course had been raised that way, it was just that if you were a member of society, you said ma'am and sir, if you didn't you were a scum bucket.)

"Why not?" 

The room was suddenly very quiet, our eyes met and I knew exactly what she meant.  But she just kind of put her head down.  That was indelible, and I understood that this was NOT right, this was definitely not right.  I can remember that day (almost 60 years ago) like it was yesterday.

As far as her duties, Mae cleaned and vacuumed, but mostly did the ironing in the kitchen, I remember because that is where Daddy built that ironing board that came out of the wall.  I don't remember her wearing a uniform…

{this is where Sue chimed in}

I think she did, it was not like a white uniform, but I remember an apron.  I was probably about 6.  I remember she used to do a lot of the ironing. 

I remember having a cowboy outfit that I got from Tommy Roper, handed down to me, I loved that cowboy outfit.  It had chaps, it had a vest, it had a flannel shirt, and I had the gun in the holsters and I was set.  I loved my cowboy outfit. 

Tommy Roper, Kay and Sue

I remember when I had just about outgrown it, Mother convinced me that I should give it to the maid, Mae, that she had some little boys that were just about the right size.  Mother really hung a guilt trip on me.  I just about, well I think I did probably cry.  Begrudgingly, I gave up my cowboy outfit.  But I remember that outfit, there are probably some old pictures of me in that outfit.  

It is not like we were rich or anything, and it was not like in the book/movie, The Help - the maid did not cook or serve our meals, she just did some of the dusting and cleaning and mostly ironing, and she did use the inside bathroom.  

Did I say how much I loved that cowboy outfit?

Buddy remembers when she vacuumed off the gas logs because they were dusty, and it took off all the sparkly stuff.  According to him, Inez completely had a fit, she did not like it at all.  He remembers his mom being very mad.

It was interesting hearing the three Tidwell kids talk about the maid, Mae Johnson.

Kay (the eldest) - when recalling the 'don't call me ma'am' conversation, you could tell by the look on her face that she was appalled at the unfairness all over again these many years later.  And very enlightening for me to see that younger version of Kay (now 70) expressing early on what would be a lifelong mission of rooting for the underdog, the oppressed, from her early days of 'saving the chickens' doomed to be Sunday dinner all the way to the present day of rescuing and providing homes for hundreds of homeless animals. 

Sue (the middle child) recalls not the oppressed or much about the maid as a person at all, but more about how she (Sue) was affected.  It is fun to see how their personalities, formed at a young age, have stayed the same all these years.  I imagine Inez probably wanted that cowboy outfit gone so she could try once again to dress Sue like a little girl.  I think Sue would still have that cowboy outfit to this day if she could!

Buddy's (the youngest) only recollection is more about his mother's reaction, possibly one of the first times he saw his mother mad?  (but not the last!)

More stories poured out around that table, the one about the Toni perms, the Week from Hell, and Can I shave my legs?  more to come!

family stories fit together 
like pieces of an heirloom quilt

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