By M. Frances Erler PeaksAndBeyond.com
When I was about seven or eight, my parents hired an African American maid to watch us kids after school when Mom had bridge club. She also did the ironing while she was at our house. I remember her running the hot iron over a Colonial Bread wrapper, to get the wax melted on it. This made it really smooth out the wrinkles in the clothes, I guess.
My brother was three years younger than me, so he doesn’t remember her. She was to my childhood eyes an older woman, with maybe a little gray in her hair. Soft-spoken, but I could tell she was a loving person. If we wanted to talk, she listened. I don’t think she tended to start the conversation, though.
Both of my grandmothers lived in other towns, so for those years, Linnie became a surrogate grandma for me. I never felt uncomfortable around her, like I did with my ‘real’ grandmas sometimes. I guess I didn’t see them enough to know them well.
One evening, Linnie stayed late and made supper for us. I’m wondering if it was the night my youngest brother was born. She warmed a can of cream of chicken soup, using water to dilute it. Mom always used milk, so I thought it would taste strange. But it was fine. Every time I make a can of condensed soup with water now, I think of Linnie.
I don’t know for sure who brought Linnie to our house. Maybe Mom went to pick her up while I was a school. It’s odd the things you don’t notice when you’re a child. She was just there when I got home, and then she went home somehow when her work day was over.
Once, though, she needed Mom to drive her home, so we children went along. This was the only time I saw where Linnie lived. It was in a shabby part of El Dorado, Arkansas, with only dirt streets, and little rundown wooden houses. It looked rather sad.
After we’d dropped Linnie off at her house, I remember asking Mom: “Why do the colored people live in such poor places?” (The N-word was forbidden in my family, even then in the 1950s.)
“It’s not their fault, Frances,” she said quietly. “People who are poorer than we are in things are still just as good as people. Always remember that.”
I can still picture this entire scene, even though it took place at least 60 years ago. The words my mother said took on more and more meaning for me as the years went by. She went out of her way to make sure we didn’t look down on any of the poorer people who lived in our town. I never knew, until many years later that her childhood had been lived in poverty, too. Out of it she forged an understanding of all people less fortunate, and compassion for them. It’s one of the best legacies she left me.