Sepia Saturday challenges bloggers to share family history through old photographs.
This week’s Sepia Saturday prompt features some well-dressed gentlemen outside a store displaying its wares: bananas, potatoes, oysters, and more. But it’s the gentleman to the far right who prompts me to explore a topic I had not considered before: my family’s association with African-Americans.
In the 1960s when the Civil Rights movement was gaining momentum, I often heard people ask, “Aren’t you ashamed of your ancestors?” Not me. My ancestors were mostly poor dirt farmers and dirt poor farmers, not plantation owners by any stretch. Census record after record indicates no one in my family owned a slave. Once in awhile, there was a black woman in the household helping with the children or garden, but there were no families of slaves.
Over the years my family often employed a black woman to help out, even if only for short periods of time. As I watched The Help recently, I felt so sorry for the black housekeepers and nannies who PARENTED all those white children while their high-society parents indulged themselves in a shallow life and openly denied the Help any sort of dignity, even the use of a bathroom. I’ve since wondered about the many housekeepers and babysitters who have passed through my life, and I pray my parents were kind.
Here they are, ever so briefly:
NAME UNKNOWN: I was a baby when Daddy was a student at the University of Virginia and Momma worked in the Bursar’s office on campus. She hired a young black girl to keep me during the day. One day Momma arrived home from work to find me sitting outside in a wet diaper, all sunburned, playing in the rocks. Inside “the Help” had passed out on the bed having tried on all of Momma’s clothes and having drunk all of Daddy’s whiskey. Momma grabbed her by the hair and threw her out of the house.
OK, so that’s our “not-so-good” story but one my parents did laugh about in later years.
|The blurry-faced cutie is Moi in the company of two doting|
grandfathers, Orvin Davis and Fred Slade.
Daddy and Momma are by our little trailer on Copely Hill
in Charlottesville where many young students at
the University of Virginia lived.
MILDRED: My parents always spoke with such fondness about Mildred who cared for me when the previous girl didn’t work out. Just two little stories: (1) Momma had to bake her a pie each week because Mildred loved Momma’s pies. She would eat one slice every day while I napped. (2) One time when Momma was writing Mildred’s paycheck, she suddenly couldn’t recall her last name. Too embarrassed to admit it, Momma resorted to subterfuge by asking, “How is it you spell your last name?” Mildred replied: “G-R-E-E-N.”
MATTIE: Mattie took care of my baby sister when Momma returned to teaching and I was in school. In her mind's ear Mary Jollette can almost hear Mattie singing gospel songs to soothe her while holding her in her lap. Mary Jollette can still see Mattie’s hands with her chipped red fingernail polish, patting her leg to the rhythm.
|1959 - Mary Jollette could do some bouncing|
in that chair in the kitchen of our apartment
above our grandparents' house on Gillis Road.
CARRIE: I was probably in junior high or even high school when Carrie came by bus in the afternoons to iron. I remember her eyes were the opposite of crossed, and her feet were in terrible shape with disfigured bulging heels. But she was a fine woman, tall and neat. I always enjoyed talking to her, and I learned a lot about ironing just watching her. Often she rode the bus home, but sometimes Daddy would drive her.
But did we bother taking pictures of these women who made our lives easier? Sadly no.
However, my great-grandmother Mary Theresa Walsh (or maybe it was a great-aunt) managed to capture a picture of RACHEL, her cook, housekeeper and babysitter. Daddy and Leo loved Rachel. She was a good cook and genuinely nice person. Look at that smile!
|Rachel surrounded by the Slade kids in 1936|
Leo, Betty, and Fred
Judging by the impressions left behind by rusted thumbtacks, the photo of Rachel and the Slade kids remained on display for quite some time.
Now I’m wondering: Did any of these women go home and tell stories about us?
There’s more in store at Sepia Saturday.