“Night and Day”

“Night and Day”

On the surface, Lucy Mae and B. had little in common except kinship. Lucy Mae was taller and
slender and B. was short and fat… very short, barely 5 feet tall, fluffy and voluptuous and had
the “nerve to have a waistline”, Mama often said laughingly. Her dress size was about a 22,

but those lil’ fat feet measured at six and a half. To me, Lucy Mae was gorgeous and B. was
kind of homely and average-looking, even on a good day. Mama’s complexion was cafe au lait
and velvet smooth, B.’s was tobacco colored and ruddy.
Lucy Mae was more refined (knowing how to exude comportment as necessary and generally
only clowned around with us and close friends). B. was not refined, not at all and broke every
imaginable rule of proper etiquette and conduct. She could be profane, even crude, but in an
amusing way (to me anyway). I loved to see her “cut up and clown” and she never seemed to
have a bad day. Always jovial and in a happy mood, the twinkle in her eye never left her. It
defined her! Nobody, but nobody was going to “steal her joy”! “Lucy Mae, Let’s Quit this Job Gull!”
While in their late teens, one of Mama and B.’s regular ploys was to “work together”, meaning
that they were both employed at the same place, at the same time. Simultaneous employment
in the same location for these two was bound to result in trouble… but for the clueless
employers, not for the employees.
In the Jim Crow era, there were many black-owned businesses in town, but not nearly enough
to employ the vast number of black ladies seeking to enter the workforce. If the ladies were not
fortunate enough to become self-employed, work for a black business or acquire the education
to teach school, they routinely resorted to taking jobs in “private homes”. In these “private
homes” lived the white folks, where housekeeping, cooking and childcare opportunities were
countless. Having money was not at all necessary… all the employer had to be was “white” to
feel entitled to a “maid”, better known as “help”. White female factory workers, store clerks and
even those living in the local “white-only” housing project, Briarfield, had the nerve to try to have
a maid. As Mama would say, “even white trash” had maids, they didn’t have nothin’, couldn’t
afford to pay you nothin’, and didn’t want to pay even if they had it, which they ‘sho did not!.
They ain’t had a pot to pee in, she said. Wages for housekeeping were pathetically low and the
offerings of “po’ whites” were more so. The maids’ wages were paid out of the poor white’s
“house money”. How much house money could you possibly have if one was as poor as the
help in some instances?
Back to Mama and B. The cousins’ “co-working” associations often resulted in them having
quite a bit of “fun” on the job and surely oft times at the expense “their” white folks.
Housekeeping jobs were a “dime a dozen” back then and they would quit at the “drop of a hat”
because they could easily find another job the very next day. Mama’d say, “Them peckerwoods
wudn’t paying us nothing no way, so I wudn’t studdn’ them!” According to Mama, it was usually
Alma who’d “up and quit” the job and she’d follow B. right on out the door. Though customary
in some small southern towns, Hattiesburg was too large a place for whites to force “the colored
help” to rescind their job abandonment and “un-quit” their job. The local system didn’t
necessarily rely on references from other whites previous employers either. Therefore, the
Hattiesburg white folks were virtually powerless to prevent “colored help” from moving on. The

most effective references were one’s superior culinary skills and impeccable grooming. If the
prospective “help” happened to be a excellent cook, not to mention a skilled “pastry chef”, she
was “in”!
During the Jim Crow era, my Mama and cousin, B. were “serial job quitters.”
“Me and Alma was in our late teens and we took a job at this house right here. I was the cook
and Alma was the “nurse” and she was to take care of the ol’ bedridden white lady. Honey, we
was left alone at the house all day which suited us jus’ fine. Well one day, I was in the kitchen
and Alma went into the bedroom to check on the ol’ lady. And Alma found her in a mess! I
mean a sho’ nuff mess! Alma flew back into the kitchen, all outta breath and shouted, ‘Lucy
Mae, gull, come and look a’ this mess! This ol’ lady done shit from her head clean down to her
heels! Hell naw, I ain’t ‘bout to clean up all this shit. Not today! Let’s quit and go home Lucy
Mae! I ain’t doing it!’ And out the doe’ we went. That ol’ white lady had really messed herself
up, her clothes, the bed linen, everything!’ Nursing that ol’ lady was not my job and I wudn’t
about to clean the mess up either. I was the cook! I left ‘cause Alma left. When one of us left a
job, both of us left. I was always the cook and Alma was always the nurse.”
What a way to have fun (?), I thought! They never even pondered the thought of being too
afraid (of the white folks) to leave. Even then, they were “liberated to a degree. Alma was too
lazy and cunning to do anything she didn’t want to do at “Miss Ann’s” house and Mama was too
mean and radical to “bend” or tolerate disrespect.

LUCY MAE & B. AS CHILDREN

Williams – Dawkins
Family Stories
Lou Alma Jones Atkins
“B.”

Mama’s cousin/sister/best friend/partner in crime

LUCY MAE & B. AS CHILDREN

Mama had no sisters and B. had no siblings, so consequently they were as thick as thieves.
They were just three years apart in age and they had no memory of being without one another.
There was always some one-sided “cat fight” going on or just recently over. . Mama was always
the one hissing, scratching and biting, fangs showing and Alma would linger around slightly
amused during the tantrum until Mama ran slap out of steam. She understood Mama and would
let her have her fits. They were always concerning a secret Alma had revealed that Mama had
told her “in strict confidence” or a deed Alma had done (always to herself). She had to love
Mama to tolerate her.
Lou Alma was called “B.” by the family. “We were cousins on “our-er’ mama’s sides.” said
Mama. B. lived just about all her life in Hattiesburg, Mississippi and was the only child
.According to Mama, B. “grew up with everythang” (in regard to material possessions). “They
owned a large house and had a car, a telephone and a piano!” None of which Mama’s family
had. And, also none of which any “ordinary negroes” also owned to Mama’s knowledge. “Cudn’
Lige”, was also a local merchant who operated a “dry goods” store and a livery business. He
used his T-Model to go to the train station to pick up passengers and that’s what his telephone
for, for folks to call him when they needed to be picked up. Mama said, “They didn’t have
nobody to call because nobody else we knew had a phone.”
As the only child of a store owner, B. always had access to a bounty of goodies. Being the
rogue she was, she’d swipe sweets to secretly enjoy with Lucy Mae, her partner-in crime. For
entertainment, B. would stage concerts in the living room where B. would play and Mama would
sing. B.’d swing and sway her plump rounded body while seated atop the round wooden piano
stool while banging out tunes on the piano and “make” Mama sing. The only reason Mama
went along with the performances was to get ahold of the coveted lemon that Alma would have
already swiped from Cudn Lige’s store. The lemon bribe was offered for Mama to “clear her
throat” and get her ready for her “solo”. Mama said, “I wudn’t thinking about no sangin’, I just
wanted that lemon. At our house, we didn’t have no lemons, never! A lemon was a luxury that
was never to be seen at the Dawkins’ home. Never! She’d say, “Amma, made the biggest dern
fool outta me. She even tricked me into washing my face with pee, saying it would keep my soft
and skin pretty, my Lord above, that Amma.”