Monday, February 13, 2012

My Bessie: She was kind, smart, and important


Okay, I know I am probably the last person on earth to have read “The Help” or to have seen the movie. 
I just saw the movie over Christmas and then read the book after that.  Backwards, I know!  I have not read anything recently that has made such an impact on me.  I have carried the characters and conversations in my head for weeks…  I’m actually glad to have watched the movie first.  It gave me faces to put with the characters that I was reading about in the book. Oh, don’t get me wrong, this book was descriptive enough on its own to produce the faces of the characters.  But I found it comforting to already know who I was reading about.  Anyway, I am not writing this post as a book review.  There are many of those already written by much more talented writers than myself.

I want to write about “The Help”, because it brought back such wonderful feelings and memories of the “help” in my own life.  I have lived in South Georgia all of my life.  And in the early 70’s, when I was born, people still hired maids to help with housework and babysitting.  It wasn’t a luxury afforded only to the rich.  My parents were far from rich!  They were a couple in their early 20’s with two little kids to raise.  Both of my parents worked outside the home, and Bessie came in to stay with us kids and keep house.  According to my mother and grandmother, Bessie was my grandmother’s maid first, and she came to work for my parents after I was born.  She seemed to still work for my grandparents at times, so I am not sure if she worked for both families at the same time or not.  I know she was a hard worker, so she may have held down both jobs! 

I was six years old the last time I saw Bessie, so all of my memories are made up of stories told by my family members and a few memories of my own- from a child’s perspective.

What I remember most about Bessie was sitting on her lap.  She was a plump woman who always wore those thick support stockings.  I believe they were white or nude, which is so funny to me.  Can you imagine an African American woman wearing white or tan thick stockings these days?  Anyway, I remember sitting comfortably on Bessie’s lap while she sang or talked to me.  And I can still see those chubby legs where the support stockings had rolled down below her knees and exposed the rolls.  I never saw her as “fat” or “black” for that matter.  I just remember feeling loved and secure.  You know what’s amazing about that?  From what my family has told me, Bessie had 16 children of her own.  YES!  Sixteen!  And her older children and her husband were very abusive toward her.  They wouldn’t let her eat at the table with them or  let her wash her clothes with theirs.  I don’t know what the family dynamics were exactly, but I just remember hearing how she was treated badly at home.  That made me sad even then.  I can’t imagine having 16 of my own children, and going to someone else’s house to cook, clean, and babysit all day every day.  I can’t think of many women that would do that today!

I remember her fried chicken too!  Mmmm… delicious!  Mom reminded me that Bessie had asked that she be able to make herself a plate of the food she cooked for us every night.  When we had fried chicken, she always wanted the back!  People are funny about their chicken : )

kim baby pic1
Me at 2 years old

Because I was so young, I don’t have a whole lot of memories of specific events involving Bessie.  I just remember her being there.  I remember feeling loved.  And I certainly do not remember feeling any kind of prejudice against her because she was black.  I hope she felt loved and appreciated by our family, especially in light of her own difficult home life. 

In reading “The Help”, I was shocked and hurt many times by the words that were spoken to and about the maids in those homes. 
I guess I was just too young when we had a maid to see the very ugly side of racial prejudice, and I am thankful for that.  Don’t get me wrong, living in the South, I’ve seen a lot and heard a lot that made me angry or uncomfortable.  But, thankfully, I’ve never believed that anyone, regardless of the color of their skin or the kind of job they held, is less important than I am.
I’m so thankful to have the small yet pleasant memories of my Bessie to remind me of someone who was KIND, GOOD, and IMPORTANT.  I will always remember her fondly….

Linking to these great parties:
Show and Tell at Blue Cricket Designs

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Weekend Bloggy Reading

Oopsey Daisy

Positively Splendid

6 click here to comment:


So lovely a post. I saw the movie but haven't yet read the book. I like to see the movie first also. If I read the book first then see the movie, I am disappointed because they sometimes change the movie a lot.

I am so glad you had Bessie in your life. You learned the lesson of equality early.

Can't wait to see you Saturday!

Renewed Upon a Dream

Thank you for sharing your story! I haven't seen the movie yet (the wait on Netflix is sooo loong!) but I read the book back when it came out.

reFresh reStyle

I read the book and loved it, of course disliked the prejudice parts. That's sad that she was mistreated by her family! I can't wait to watch the movie!

Looking forward to Saturday!

Lolly Jane

Great post! I don't know one woman who would take care of any children that isn't hers with 16 of her own! Dang! Bessie sounds amazing- that she provided you with the same love and security as Aibileen did to the little girl in The Help. Which, by the way, was an wonderful film. I left so sick about snotty southern white girls treating anyone that way but found myself grateful that attitude towards people, like you, was not instilled in me. "Two slice Hilly!" She got what she had coming to her ;)

Happy weekend!


i haven't read the book yet but your comments about it just put it at the top of my "to read" list ... your post is a lovely tribute :o)

Alison @ Oopsey Daisy

Thanks for sharing at oopsey daisy! I so want to read this book, too!