“White Folks Don’t Need To Know How Fine I’m Livin”
Mama’s Cousin B. came down with the flu one time and was too sick to go to work at her
housekeeping job. The story goes that “Miss Hodge”, B.’s “white lady” decided to be charitable
and bring her a pot of soup. I suspect the motivation for this gesture was also to investigate
whether B. was really at home sick and to expedite B.’s recovery and return work. “Ol’ Lady”
Hodge, as Mama referred to her, surely wanted to avoid being responsible for performing her
own housework any longer than was absolutely necessary.
Well, B. told Mama that Miss Hodge” drove up to her house on Front Street, got out and set the
soup pot right down on her front steps”. She did not even approach the front porch, thus never
even considered approaching the front door! Mrs. Hodge told B. she “couldn’t come inside
because she couldn’t risk catching the flu”.
Mama said, “What Alma? The steps, left the soup on the steps? I would a’ took that damn pot
and slung it out right out the back door… bringing you some food and not thinking enough of
you, not havin’ the good sense or manners to bring it inside.” That white heffa! She got a lotta
nerve! She better be glad it was you and not me. I’d a told her a thing or two!”
As mama ranted and raved, B. started laughing and said, “ See now Lucy Mae that was right up
my alley, I didn’t want her to come in my house…No-oo-oo-o, child, she didn’t need to come up
in here. For whut? Naw, unh unh-h-h-h, she didn’t need to brang her white butt up in here.
Gull, once she gits up in here and see my nice living room, see how fine I’m living, I’ll be done
lost my job. You know white folks thank ain’t nobody got nuthin decent but them. They don’t
wont negroes to have nothin’ nice, just they ‘ol hand-me-down farted out junk”.
(B. did have a very nice home which was expensively furnished.) Mama tried her best to stay
angry, but she began laughing too, saying, “Alma, gull you’re a mess!”
B.’s husband, Cudn’ Tam
The average person cannot begin to fathom the misfortune of navigating within the personal
space of another for his or her livelihood. Imagine having to handle the personal items of
people unrelated to one by blood or marriage. Mind you, this situation may likely dictate the
touching with one’ bare hands, the soiled underwear (and the like). Everyday!
One perfect example was a “dilemma” imposed upon my very own sister. In 1962, Lee Ann
was working as a part-time maid for a Mrs. Thomsen, an employed widow. She was an old and
white, a local “insurance lady” or secretary of some type. Naturally, “Miss Thomsen” (as
Southerners, we never, ever uttered the word “Mrs.”) was away at work all day, which was
always the preferred arrangement for any household help. No white folks at home to look over
your shoulder and put in their two cents.
Understand that my sister was the most particular and persnickety human being ever born and
was fanatically clean in every aspect. By “the lady of the house”, Lee Ann was given her
detailed instructions on her first day of work. Among her many assigned tasks, the laundry and
the procedure per handling the lingerie was clearly mandated. Lee Ann said, “That white
heifer said for me to never put her panties in the washer, but to wash her panties by hand and
hang them up to dry. Yes ma’am, Miss Thomson. No washer and no dryer for your panties. I
got it! (Yeah okay, right, I said to myself! Heifer!) As soon as she left, I took her big raggedy
drawers, with the stretched out elastic in the waistband and slung ‘em right in that washing
machine! She musta been stone crazy if she thought I was going to put my hands on her dirty
drawers. Mama wouldn’t been caught dead in no drawers that raggedy. Wash her drawers by
hand? Not me! Wait on it Ol’ Lady Thomsen!” If she’d been holding her breath to get her
“draws” washed by hand, she’d of been dead as a duck!’ Not my sister!
(More to come about my sister eating up Mrs. Thomsen’s fresh strawberries, napping her bed
atop the bedspread and using her fingernail polish of which she had numerous bottles. How
dare she? Things did not end well!)