Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Help

I haven't seen the movie, nor have I read the book.  I've lived it.  My mother was The Help.  She was called a domestic or a day worker.  It was her only employment.  From the time I was small she always had several different homes she cleaned.  From that profession and income she raised six children.

Mrs. SoandSo on Monday and Mrs. SoandSo on Wednesday. She normally worked three days a week when I was small.  She would leave early in the morning to catch a bus.  This bus ride would take her to some suburban area to clean a white family's home.

We would hear of the details of that home later that day.  My mother was very descriptive allowing us to use our imaginations.  Detailing we could tell you exactly what the house looked like.  The diagram of the home, layout of the furniture, name brand of the clothing and even the canned goods..  She would describe the cleanliness of the home and it would be anywhere from nasty to trifling.  Trifling was the word you never wanted her to call you, it meant you didn't try, didn't care and wouldn't amount to less than that.  One word, expressive of so many meanings.

You never had to ask, you could tell if it was an easy day by the way she dropped in the chair.  She didn't say to us but listening to her phone call,  she would tell of the Mrs asking her to do this or that, more than what she expected, more than she was willing..  My mother needing the money, needing the job, would politely state what she had already through their communication agree to do.  Nothing more nothing less.

We would hear of the children, spoiled, insolent, bratty or just downright rude.  We would take these things in and knew if we in any way, shape or form acted, said or behaved in this manner we would get our asses beat.   Not only did my mother teach us to be respectful, the lifestyle of these families told us, that in our behavior alone, we were better.

We heard about the beautiful furniture or dishes and the artwork, but how beautiful is something when the house is in turmoil.  We thought, we who have nothing (in comparison), had a mother who was not anxiety ridden, who did not have a hidden alcohol problem, who was not subservient in order to have the lifestyle that she wished, we had happiness.

Returning home sometimes with hand me downs that one of the six of us could fit she was tired.  Leaving home in the dark and returning home in the dark we did not assail her with our problems until she had sat and rested for a moment.  Then our onslaught would began of who did what, said what, didn't do.

She had spent three hours that day just on the bus or waiting for one.  Cleaned three to four bedrooms, living room, kitchen, rumpus room, laundry and two to three bathrooms.  Vacuuming, mopping and being asked did she do windows.  The expectation that someone would desire from another human for a days pay and bus fair was pathetic.  Some would say help your self to whatever you find to eat and others would place a sandwich on a table and call her to eat.  She never ate.  She never took anything, either.  She said people sometimes put things places to see if you would take it, such as change on a dresser.  They knew how much was there.  Or change on the floor, pick it up and place it where they can see it. Honesty was a must to be the help.

One male newscaster, a prominent figure at the time in our local news had skid marks in his shorts.  We would watch him and squeal with disgust.  My mother worked only a few times in his home before she quit,  keying the side of his wife's car as she walked out and down the driveway. This woman felt she had done my mother a favor in hiring her.  She placed out a sandwich made with dried out bread and a meat that was unrecognizable with it's hardened ends.  I can't remember if my mother refused eat or do a chore the woman requested,.  It really doesn't matter, we knew if  you pissed off my mother,  you pissed us off.  The newscaster called my mother, apologizing profusely for his wife's behavior and asked her to return, she said "no" maybe it was "hell no," I don't remember.  He didn't say anything about his wife's car. We told all our friends about his skid marked shorts and jeered at the television when he came on.

One family had a home so large that this was her steady income for years.  Going there three times a week enabled her to clean the house completely.  She loved this family, particularly the wife.  She and the wife had a friendship that was not assaulted by color.  Two woman wanting the best for their families.  The husband worked long hours, he was an orthordonist and he always showed my mother the highest regard.  Their home was a distant from the bus stop so my mother was picked up and returned to the bus stop.  She said she was offered when it was cold a ride all the way home, she declined.

It was an onslaught of emotions for both women when the found out that the Mister had a mistress.  My mother was there holding her hand through the betrayal.  The Mrs kept her head high and her esteem up from what I believe, my mother's inspiration.  She had a son that was diagnosed with cancer and my mother, again was with her while she cried.  When the son died we felt sad as well, my mother cried..  When you hear the stories of the families you feel as if you knew them..  When the Mrs later died, years after my mother had stopped working for her, my mother cried.  She had lost a friend.

My mother would go on to work for a family on another side of town for over 16 years.  Daily she went and it was the same.  It was a fast paced home, everyone seemed to have an urgency or a few lack of.  Empty dishwasher from last night's dinner, put in dishes from morning breakfast.  Start the first load of laundry, make the beds, clean the bathrooms, three.  Clothes in dryer, start another load.  Run sweeper in living room, sweeper in bedrooms.  Iron the shirts, dust mop the family room.  Unload the dishwasher, mop the kitchen, mop the bathrooms.  Take folded clothes to bedrooms, put away.  Go home, tomorrow would be the same.

On occasions when my mother had an appointment, one of her three girls would fill in.  We knew the routine. In later years my mother's health failed and we took turns going, my mother needed the income.  Eventually my sister took over the job and then my mother died.  A beautiful floral arrangement was sent to the church for my mom's service, very exotic, very large. 16 or 17 years she worked in their home, no one from that family attended her service.  It doesn't matter her funeral was standing room only.  My sister never went back, a call was made to our home, she never answered the phone.

The help knows more about you than you think.  Just because someone is cleaning your house don't think they don't see or know your problems.  The beauty of the help is, they don't tell.

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