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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Lisa March 14, 2014 - 6:50 am

Thanks for sharing such fond memories. You definitely paint a different picture than the one in “The Help.” I read the book when it came out, but didn’t get around to watching the movie until a few months ago!

Alli March 14, 2014 - 8:13 am

I wanted my readers to see that the movie was not exactly the norm, at least in the southern town I grew up in.

Kim March 14, 2014 - 3:34 pm

I feel sure that y’all treated your maid much better than any of the ladies in The Help were treated.
BTW – I have a brother named Tim, too (he is actually my twin).

Alli March 14, 2014 - 8:42 pm

Our housekeepers were always part of our family. πŸ™‚

Anna @ Northern Homestead March 14, 2014 - 4:35 pm

Thank you so much for this pots. I have seen The Help, and like you, I liked the move but not the way those helpers were treated. However, I am not American, so I have no idea how things really were. It is nice to get another perspective. And I am too thankful for the Holly Spirit, THE Helper!

Alli March 14, 2014 - 8:43 pm

It was just part of the south. But we loved our housekeepers and they loved us.

[email protected] March 15, 2014 - 8:51 am

I read the book but haven’t seen the movie. My best friend and all of her family had help that were treated like family. My grandmother also treated her help like family and her favorite was even included in her obituary as her “daughter of the heart”.

Alli March 15, 2014 - 2:48 pm

That is so beautiful about your grandmother’s obituary, Paula! Warms my heart!

Kristen from The Road to Domestication March 15, 2014 - 11:32 am

Great post, Alli! I loved “The Help”, too πŸ™‚ So much spirit in those women! And I loved hearing your story, too! I guess I could say that I had more help in the way of “wow, I DON’T want to be like that” than I did have general inspiration (outside my family, that is)

Alli March 15, 2014 - 2:47 pm

Thanks, Kristen! I just wanted to share how things were from my point of view. I still remember the good cooking and good times! πŸ™‚

Melinda Snavley March 15, 2014 - 4:43 pm

It brings back so many memories of growing up!! They were family to us. πŸ™‚

Alli March 15, 2014 - 5:56 pm

I know! We had some good times, didn’t we?

Renew Your Space March 15, 2014 - 4:44 pm

That movie made me so mad to see how catty those women were. Great acting & great paybacks in this plot. I absolutely loved the ending. Great stories about your childhood Alli. How wonderful you have those memories to treasure.

Alli March 15, 2014 - 5:57 pm

It was great acting! And the ending was awesome.

Rebekah March 15, 2014 - 7:10 pm

I wish we would’ve had a maid growing up but I guess when you have 3 girls who needs “help”. Lol It does sound like y’all had some great housekeepers. Uncle Timmy must’ve been a mess. Lol

Alli March 15, 2014 - 7:20 pm

Oh, he was! But we had a great childhood.

Shirley Wood March 17, 2014 - 6:19 pm

We also had a maid growing up when my Mama worked outside of the home. Funny thing, I remember her eating some kind of white clay when she was pregnant. Mama always laughed about that. My Mama certainly did not treat her maid the way the ladies in The Help were treated. I’ve seen the movie several times including watching it with my mother. We talked at length about it. My mother grew up with a maid in the house also because both of my grandparents worked at a mill. They never treated their maid badly either. Mama spoke of her as a member of the family also. I cringed watching the movie. I would personally not even be friends with someone who treated another person so unfairly. I understand your point of view. We grew up very similar. You are so right that all southerners are not like that. Great point of view.

Alli March 18, 2014 - 7:59 am

One morning I woke up thinking about Emma Lee and wondering how she was doing and if she was still living. Then my mind went back to how much fun we had and how much our maids helped shape our lives in a positive manner and I knew I had to write the flip side to that movie. You are right! I would not even be friends with someone who treated another human being in such a way.


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