The Help – Housekeepers of The South

by Alli

Did you see the 2011 movie The Help? Has it been that long ago?

My husband and I saw it the day it came out. It just so happened to be date night and it was my turn to pick a movie and that’s the one I picked.

Because it was the premiere, we had to stand in line for a little while to get into the theater.

I hesitate to say I loved the movie. I did love it.  

But I hated the way the housekeeping staff was treated. I’m a true southerner, born and bred. And we did have maids (that’s what they were called back then) when I was growing up. But I have never seen anyone treated like those women were treated.

The help movie poster - housekeepers of the south

No, we didn’t have an entire staff of housekeepers. We just had one. And that was only because mom worked outside the home. Well, actually, we employed several, just not at the same time.

Christmas From Sears – More Memories

I remember the time when I was about 7 years old and some great big boxes from Sears mysteriously arrived at our house a couple of weeks before Christmas. The housekeeper put those boxes in a back bedroom and shut the door. She told us to stay out of that room.  

Well, my brother, Tim, (a hand full, for sure) figured out a way to sneak in and he opened one of the boxes. Not only did he open it, he told us what was in it. I’m getting upset with him all over again for ruining Christmas! The only consolation I have is remembering the spanking he received from my dad.

I can almost hear Gracie, our housekeeper, on the phone with mom, “Ms. Helen, you have got to come home. I can’t do nothing with that boy! Timmy’s done opened that big box from Sears.”

Butterbeans – A Not-So-Favorite Vegetable To This Day

One time, Gracie would not let my sister and me leave the dining room table until we had eaten all of our butter beans. When we were young, neither of us liked them.  

After sitting there for what felt like hours, the housekeeper went to a back bedroom to do some ironing. As soon as she was out of sight, we snapped open the window screen, called the dog, and emptied out both bowls of beans. Lord, forgive us! And thank you that our dog, Scottie did love cold butterbeans. 

The Help – Annie – The Best Housekeeper and Cook

I’ve written about grandma’s housekeeper, Annie, here. She was one of the best cooks in the world. Period.

Emma Lee – The Lady I Remember The Most

But, oddly, the housekeeper I have the most memories of was Emma Lee, my cousin, Dixie’s, housekeeper. She was a hoot!

And a few times, when mom was in-between trying to find someone to babysit us, Emma Lee would bring my cousins over and help out.

That Georgia Clay

I remember the day Emma Lee taught us about that Georgia clay that lined the dirt road leading up to our house. She convinced us that if we chewed it, it would make our teeth whiter.

I can still see us foraging for that perfect piece of white clay and hesitantly popping it into our mouths.  Note:  I just saw where you can actually order white Georgia clay on the internet!  If I had only known back then . . .

My cousins must have been good kids because Emma Lee was part of their family from the time they were babies until long after they were grown and gone.  And she was always a part of our lives because if our cousins weren’t at our house, we were at theirs.

That Glass Eye

The one feature that I remember the most about Emma Lee was her glass eye. And my greatest memory of her was the day she told us about Clarence. Clarence was Emma Lee’s boyfriend.

Dixie, Melinda, and I were impressionable young girls and we must have been up to some mischief that day (every day?) because Emma Lee told us that Clarence had beat her eye out and if we didn’t behave, he was coming for us!

Deep down, we knew she was kidding, because she said it with a smile on her face. But a tiny part of us was always on the lookout for Clarence.

Our Help Is Nothing Like The Movie

Although it was in the same era, our “help” was nothing like the movie. Those ladies didn’t wear uniforms. They didn’t walk to work. The help was treated with love and respect and in return, they loved us and became part of our families, our lives, and our precious memories. They all touched our lives and helped shape us into the people we are now!

On this Friday, I’m thinking of all the help we had growing up. And I’m thinking about the Holy Spirit, my ultimate comforter and helper!

Here’s to you, Emma Lee, Annie, Gracie, and all the others!  Thanks for all your help along the way. It truly does take a village! 

Who, besides your family, helped shape your life and point you in the right direction?

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