Last night I went to the movies with Missy. We saw “The Help,” a movie from a book that Missy had read several years ago. We have been to three movies in the last two years, “It’s Complicated,” “Mama Mia,” and now “The Help” so I was unsure about yet another chick flick. But it was really good. The costuming and sets were just astounding, Jackson, Mississippi in the 1960’s. The wardrobes and hairstyles were spot on.
The content of the movie was equally spot on, essentially that black maids raised white children, and in this movie, girls in particular. The generational facet of a maid raising the girl and then the girl’s children was duly noted, and as a child of the South, I remember this culture. Missy was raised by Helen. Her mother was at Junior League meetings and her dad was at work so Helen prepared, served and cleaned up after dinner. On the weekends Audi spelled Helen and did the cooking, cleaning and laundry. When Missy and I married, her mother gave us Helen, who was on her twilight cruise at that point, and Bessie. My oldest child was the last of Missy’s clan to be raised that way. Macon’s only spanking was when she colored on the wall at the head of her crib and said that Bessie did it. I know that Oliver was also tended to by Helen and Bessie but Macon has a more vivid memory of them, and the movie was about the baby girls so that is what made me think of her. And the movie was really about the sisterhood shared by the maids and their employers of being a wife, a mother, and working out your place in the society. My mother-in-law would often observe that the help was the last of the true snobs, and the movie showed that in several spots.
The most telling comment of the night happened as Missy and I were talking about the movie, and she said that her mother gave her Bessie and Helen instead of teaching her how to keep a house. I suppose those are unnecessary skills in some circumstances but the movie has a wonderful chapter where the maid teaches a girl how to cook and be a wife. My father-in-law never did his yard. He said that as long as he made more money than Herbert, Herbert would cut the grass. I love to be in the yard, and I can tell you Missy is as proud as a peacock when she has cooked a wonderful meal or has her house looking good. Missy has a sister who has virtually no housekeeping skills and I doubt that beyond calling a caterer she could not throw a dinner party. So having maids raise your children is a luxury on one hand but on the other it is a profound disservice in that life skills don’t get taught, unless of course the maid teaches them to cook and clean.
I had never thought about it but the fact that Macon is the last of a kind, partially raised by a maid, is a bittersweet thought in that an era has ended, and definitely for the better.