I’ve been trying intensely to recall events that happened in my life before I turned six-years-old. Unlike some people I know, my memory doesn’t work well for that time in my life. I see bits and pieces of things; however, live and in living color reproductions just aren’t available. In the absence of my ability to generate my own clearly defined stories, I’ll present a mixture of what I can remember and what my mother told me later.
I do recall these things: Me going to work with my mother. She worked as a domestic for the white lady, who lived on Highway 64, not too far from our house. My mother only had an eight-grade education. She worked as a domestic worker for many years. As I look back on those years, I can’t help but wonder why these white women needed someone to clean their houses, cook their meals and watch after their children. None of the women my mother worked for were employed outside of the home. They were just Southern ladies with husbands who had large farm operations, or they owned some business in town. Having a Black domestic worker to be a homemaker, while you did what seemed to have been nothing, must have been a status symbol. This was the South in the 1950s, less than one hundred years after the end of the civil war. I think this was a remnant of a time gone by.
I’m sure the women for whom my mother worked didn’t pay her very much. I do recall my mother’s salary being supplemented with things like hand-me-down clothing, left-over food and the occasional household appliance that was out of style. At the time, we were poor, but I didn’t know that. In retrospect, I assume that any items given to us, no matter whether they were discards from my mother’s employers, went far to improve our style of living. My mother dutifully performed in these ladies’ homes from the moment she entered the back door each day. She humbly used the prefix yes ma’am/no ma’am in conversations with these privileged women. Many of these women we’re my mother’s age, but her relationship with them was defined by more than simply employer/employee. It was less than that for these women and far more than that for my mother. Remember, this was the late 1950’s in Cross County, Arkansas.
At some point, before I turned six, my father’s parents died. I don’t remember when exactly. I could research this, but that would defeat the purpose of why I’m writing this. Even though I can’t remember how they looked, I can still recall the scent of cinnamon in Grandma Katherine’s kitchen. That still gives me a warm and comfortable feeling some sixty years later. I don’t think that’s too bad. Do you?
One thing I do remember during this time is how loving my mother was. She was always there. I never went without her love and comfort. She told me later that I had a brother, Johnny Lee, born after me. He died early from health complications. No one could ever explain to me exactly what the complications were. There was another brother, Larry, born in 1955. He’s still alive and growing old like me. Larry was the first of my siblings to be born in a hospital. I wonder why no midwife like Johnny Lee and me?
I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too.
Even little scraps and tatters of memory are very valuable. I think young children perceive in pictures and short films (I did, anyway!) and there’s no link between them until we start piecing them together like patchwork – and then suddenly someone else has a memory that fits in with ours and other flashes return. I hope things are better for young black people today – but from what I hear, I wonder. Please continue with your memoirs.
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Thanks for the affirmation. I’ll continue to meander through the early years of my life. Things will become clearer as I advance. I’m still not sure where this will end. I do know that there are some signs of locations ahead that I might not want to visit.
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I have heard a lot of people say that they can’t remember much before age six. Do you remember what you did when you went with your mother to her job? Were you allowed to play, or did you have to sit still and be quiet? I hope you were allowed to play!
In my earliest memories, both of my parents left at the same time every weekday morning for work. My dad worked for Pacific Gas and Electric and my mom worked as a typist in a tall office building in San Francisco. I know the building was tall, because my dad took me there one day when he went to get my mom. While they were at work every day, I was left with an old, cranky babysitter. She made me stay in my crib all day and wouldn’t feed me or get me out and dressed, until just before the time for my parents to come home from work. It was awful. I was not quite three years old in those memories.
I don’t remember whether I played or not; however, encouragement to be on my best behavior when away from home was always a thing with my mother.
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That doesn’t sound like fun. 😦
Thank you so much for digging around in your memory to recall this time. I think it is very important for all of us to understand this time in history. A lot of people tend to look backwards to the 50s as such an innocent and kind time. I know it felt more innocent and kind than it was. For example, you were poor. But you were basically unaware of the poverty because your greater needs, (nourishment and love) were met by your wonderful mom. And you weren’t barraged senseless by television advertisements showing you everything that you “should” have.
Perhaps you don’t want to hear this, but in my experience, that daunting task of researching something like the death of a family member or a childhood location can actually serve as a marvelous spark or trigger to memories that have slipped so far down we don’t realize they are still with us. (In other words, I’m hoping for more, more, more!)
Thanks for the comments. I do recall that my family did protect me from the ugly parts of the fifties and sixties, at least while I was a small child. The ugly stuff started to accumulate as I got older and my inventory of experiences grew in number.
I’ll keep digging into the dark to see what else emerges.