Monday, November 12, 2012

Sallie Mae

I can't remember her last name!  I'll let my brain work on that one while I write and maybe by the end of this installment it will come to me.  Sallie was our colored maid when I was a kid growing up in the 1960s.  She spelled her name S-A-L-L-I-E, with an I-E, not a Y.  Sallie spelled with a Y was too much like S-I-L-L-Y, she said.  Sallie was married to Mr. Will and lived with him in a little house on a dirt road.  It was a littlle white house with yellow awnings over the windows.  (I found out many years later that Sallie and Mr. Will were never married!)

My earliest memory of Sallie was when I was very little, the day my brother, Mark, came home from the hospital.  I'm not sure I really remember that or if I am just making it up, because I was only 2 years old.  But I swear I remember being at the house on Finley Drive with her waiting for Mama and Daddy to show up with Mark.  And that's all.  That's all I remember about that day.  Being there in the house with Sallie, waiting. 

I think she worked for us some off and on after that for a while until my Daddy had his first heart attack.  Then she would come on Fridays and do the house cleaning and washing and ironing.  After Daddy's first heart attack, he was completely disabled.  He could no longer work.  He watched Mark and I while Mama went back to work to support the family.  He tried to do things around the house, clean up the kitchen, a little laundry, but it made him too tired and his chest hurt for him to do much more.  So Sallie filled in the gap. 

She was a little round brown woman.  She always wore dresses and scarf tied around her head.  I don't ever recall seeing her hair.  I remember seeing her standing at the ironing board, her brown face glistening with a sheen of sweat as she sprinkled clothes with water and ironed them dry.  I smile remembering.  Not too long ago I found the "clothes sprinkler" at my mother's.  It was a little metal thing with sprinkle holes on one side and a cork on the other side.  You put water in an empty Coca-Cola bottle, then stoppered it with the "clothes sprinkler," and sprinkled the clothes.  In the hot summertime, you would sprinkle the clothes and put them in the refrigerator so they wouldn't sour before you ironed them.   

We love Miss Sallie dearly.  And she loved us.  She called us her "little white chil-ren."  My daughter asked me after she read The Help, if we treated Sallie like they treated their maids in the book.  I can honestly say we treated Sallie with the utmost respect and love.  We knew she was colored, but we were pretty color blind.  She treated us well and took care of us like we were her family, and we treated her the same way.  When I think back now, she was always a little standoffish, at arm's length, because we didn't know any better than to treat her just like we treated anyone else.  But that was at a time when colored people still had to know their place.  I see now, looking back, that the 60s were a time when blacks were in the midst of the civil rights movement.  They had just done away with colored water fountains and colored restrooms.  Salllie was old school, growing up and living in a time in the South when she had better know her place or be struck down.  So even as the times changed around her, she still was careful to keep in her place and not be too familiar. 

After Daddy died, Mama hired her to come every day and take care of us and keep house.  She was Mama's right-hand woman.  Mama had a job at the Atlanta Army Depot, and she would get up every morning and drive to Ellenwood to pick Sallie up and bring her back to the house.  Sallie never had a car and never learned to drive.  Then Mama was off to work.  Sallie would feed us breakfast and get us on our way to school, or in summertime, out the door to the yard.  You didn't play in the house back then.  She kept the house spotless and the clothes washed and ironed.  Occasionally she would cook a pot of beans or something for our dinner.  At 4:00, The Match Game would come on TV.  She would bring us in and wash us up and let us watch The Match Game.  She would sit down with us and take a little dip of snuff.  She dipped Dental Sweet Snuff.  Just a touch when she took a break.  Mama got off work at 4:30 and would come and take Sallie home for the day.  I really don't know how my mother would have managed during that time without Sallie. 

Times changed, though, and Mama remarried.  It wasn't too long after that she was able to quit her job and stay home with us again.  So Sallie moved along to stay with someone else's children and keep their house.  She would still come back occasionally and do a thorough cleaning with Mama, but she never came back and stayed with us again. 

Sallie died when I was in my early 20s.  My mother and a couple of my aunts went to her funeral.  I was at a stupid time in my life and I didn't go.  I've always regretted it.  She was special lady and a good helper to my mother. 

And no, I cannot remember her last name.  It's something simple like Turner, or Smith, or Jones, but it won't come to me.  I should have written it down before it was gone. 

I hope I haven't bored you with this long blog entry, but I want to get it all down so I won't forget any more.  I've enjoyed writing this, a pleasant walk down memory lane with a sweet and humble person I loved.