I finished reading The Help on Tuesday, just in time for our IFBC deadline (other reviews are here, here and here). I would never have picked up this book to read on my own, but that’s partly why I wanted to be part of this book club. I get stuck in reading ruts and having someone else make the book choice pushes me to shift a little. But I have to say I didn’t want to read this book at all, mostly because I thought it fell in the chick literature category. I still think that it does and don’t see myself looking for other, similar books in the future.
However, it wasn’t as bad as I feared, although I still found myself frequently annoyed with the way in which the three main white female characters behaved. I mean, seriously, did none of those women have a spine? I leave it to others in the club to provide a proper literary review. My take on it is different because the book reminded me that my mother and also my stepmother had help sort of like the maids in the book.
My mother and father moved to Nashville shortly after my brother was born. My brother is only 11 months younger than I am, so much like the young, Southern women in the book, my mother was a 23 year old woman with two tiny children. I vaguely remember the house we lived in. I believe it was a white house, with a porch that had immensely tall pillars from my perspective. I’m sure they weren’t tall at all but to my eyes they were.
I think that’s when we had Dimples. She was a fat, black woman and that’s about all I remember about her. My one firm memory is actually after my parents divorced. I was probably three and certainly no older than four. Dimples came to see us in the duplex my mother found (an upstairs/downstairs duplex—we lived on the first floor and I loved the upstairs neighbor). Dimples had a real thing for Doug, she just adored him and he loved her right back. I remember her sitting in a chair, I think a kitchen chair, and my mother saying she’d come to see us. That’s all I remember about her. But it would make sense that my father would hire someone like that because he was all about appearances and he loved wearing all the accoutrements of a successful life.
He immediately remarried following the divorce, and he and my stepmother and her four children moved to Philadelphia. In a most unusual custody agreement for those times, he had Doug and me every summer for eight weeks. The year that I was in sixth grade, Mom and he swapped the custody agreement and we went to Philadelphia for the school year. By then, Priscilla was living with Barker (father) and Marian.
Priscilla was a large black woman from Memphis. She had a bedroom on the second floor in the house and shared the upstairs bath with several of us kids. She cooked, cleaned and did shopping, laundry and child sitting for Barker and Marian, and had Sundays off.
Even though it was Philadelphia, a lot of the details about the things the maids did for their employers were spot on for what Priscilla did for us. She had a set routine for when she cleaned what, when and how laundry was done and which meals got cooked on which days. She never met a vegetable she couldn’t turn into gooey mush (which is why I still to this day detest most strong leafy greens), her fried chicken was to die for, and she always served a pitcher of sweet tea and a pitcher of unsweetened tea to us at dinner. She never ate with us.
So the book acted as a catalyst for me. I would love to know more about Dimples, because that’s the vaguest of memories for me. I remember Priscilla quite well because she was around for most of my childhood. I know my brother remembers her, too, although I’m pretty sure he doesn’t remember Dimples.