This weekend, I finished reading The Help. Obviously, I was not alive in the 1960s, but it brought back memories from my childhood of the lady who worked for my grandparents, Freddie B.
Many of my memories of Freddie B involve food. Delicious food. Even when I recall the nights she would come to my house to babysit, I think of the food we ate. A lot of times, when she would watch me in the evening, we would have a frozen chicken pot pie. I don’t know why I remember that as delicious food, maybe because everything else she made was delicious. At Christmastime, we would put in our order for desserts, and she would have it ready for us in a few days.
I remember driving to her house on numerous occasions; we would always drop her off and pick her up. Freddie B didn’t drive. I don’t recall now if she couldn’t or she didn’t. Either way, she never drove that I know of, but, by the time I was around, she was on up in age. We would drive over to her yellow trailer house. I always wanted to go inside to see where Freddie B lived.
T-Paw has many fond memories of Freddie B from his childhood. She loved him and cared for him, just as I saw Aibileen do for Mae Mobley when I read. She did the same for me when I was growing up. Even though she wasn’t in our home daily, she made sure I knew she thought of me. She would bring me things when she went on trips; most specifically, I remember a Minnie Mouse coin purse from her trip to Disneyland. She would play anything I wanted to play, even if it was hard on her physically. She walked very heavily on her feet; in our old home (built in 1918) those footsteps just pounded through the house and rattled the huge windows of my playroom. She would hunker herself down into my play table and chairs if I asked her to, even though, I know now, how uncomfortable that had to have been for her. She was nearly six feet tall.
I was always intrigued by her name as well. I asked her about the B a lot. No, it didn’t stand for anything. No, she didn’t have a middle name. No, it didn’t have a period. Her last name was Valentine. I loved that! How fun to have a holiday for your last name. I would quiz her on her name, her husband’s name, her name before that, and who know what else. She cheerfully obliged and answered all my questions.
I don’t know how much else of The Help paralleled Freddie B’s role in my grandparents’ home, but there seem to be some. Freddie B always wore a uniform, she cooked lunch, cleaned, and took care of the children. Even when I was a little girl and my grandparents’ children were grown, Freddie B came and took care of things around the house until she was unable to. Even after she stopped working for my grandparents, we would go by to see her occasionally. She would still bake for us when she was feeling well. I remember one time, when our washing machine was broken during my junior high days, we took our clothes over to wash at her house. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. She washed them, folded them, pressed them if they needed it.
Freddie B passed away several years ago. I hadn’t thought about her in quite a while until the book. The memories just came flooding back. At the time, I didn’t understand what she meant when she told me she was uncertain when her birthday was (it was between two days, she knew the year, I think). At five or six years old, there was no way for me to begin to comprehend how common that probably was for colored women of her generation.
Looking back, I didn’t get it at all. I didn’t understand–not even a little bit–what Freddie B had been through. I didn’t have a clue. I think it’s safe to say it didn’t really even occur to me until reading The Help.