I love to read. I will read anything: novels, short stories, fiction, non-fiction, poetry, blogs. Most of my reading is done in my blue recliner in the living room. During 2011, I hit the jackpot on the book choices that I made, several of which had been recommendations by friends. Among the books I read were Team of Rivals (Goodwin), Luncheon of the Boating Party (Vreeland), Renegade (Wolffe), and The Help (Stockton), all of which I highly recommend.
The Help, which is about black maids in Jackson, Mississippi, during the struggle for civil rights in the South, brought back memories of my southern upbringing when, if we could afford it, we had “help,” black women who came into our home to cook, clean, and wait on us. These women make up many of the warm memories I have of childhood although they were never a true part of the household. They were usually paid a pittance and were given hand-me-downs to supplement the paucity of their pay. Nevertheless, they were loyal and accepted “their place.” Included among those I remember were Mamie, Rose (Dunk), Anniebell, and Azalee. Although they were not mistreated in my home, neither were they totally trusted, just as the “help” in this book are mistrusted. Once Dunk brought a birthday cake for my stepmother who thanked her graciously and put the cake in the refrigerator. After dinner, I asked for a piece of the cake. My stepmother informed me that she had thrown out the cake. We could not eat it as it had been prepared in Dunk’s home and was therefore suspect. I am now embarrassed that I “bought into” this kind of behavior, but I had been taught to know no better.
During my college years I began to challenge the racial prejudice I had been taught, and I passed on the acceptance of all races to my children. However, it took this book to remind me of the days when racial intolerance was, for many, the norm and not the exception.