Sep 042011

My friend Teresa and I went to the movies over the weekend. The two times that she and I have gone to see a movie, we have both ended up crying. This time, we went to see the movie called The Help. I normally feel a sense of pride in my Southern roots but I can’t help but be ashamed of the ignorance that prevailed from that era. This movie spotlights things that I was sheltered from in so many ways.

As a young girl, growing up in rural Louisiana in the 1960’s, I lived a mere hour and a half away from Jackson, Mississippi — the place where this movie is set. The South.. a place where racial lines weren’t made to be crossed. A place where the chance of dreams coming true were affected by the race into which you were born. A place where ignorance, fear and prejudice ran rampant. A small town with small ideas. A place where the enemy was the enemy just because the color of their skin was different. The place where my Mother taught me that the color of someone’s skin didn’t matter.

If you can love the enemy, the victory is already yours.

I remember Miss Tiny. She wasn’t really tiny at all. She was round, gentle and came to clean our house. I remember her smelling like Ivory soap and her hugs were warm and squishy. Her voice was high pitched and sweet and she sang gospel songs while she worked. It was a highlight of the week to know Tiny was coming. She was always smiling and had a jolly laugh. I loved her and she doted on me.

You is kind. You is smart. You is important.

We lived out in a very rural area, so there weren’t many kids to play with and certainly not any girls. I looked forward to seeing Miss Tiny because she would let me “help” her clean. She even brought me a red bandana like hers to wear on my head as I rinsed the dishes from a stool next to her. I asked her if she had any little girls and she said yes, she had a daughter my age at her house. I asked my Mom if Miss Tiny could bring her daughter to play with me when she came. So Miss Tiny started bringing Paula every Monday when she came. Me and Paula would play in my room while Miss Tiny went about the business of cleaning our house.

I don’t remember our house being dirty but looking back, I think my mother must have known that Miss Tiny needed to make some money to help support her family and gave her a hand up. The bonus was that I now had a girlfriend to play with. I remember us sitting on the floor under a “tent” which was just the sheets that Miss Tiny had stripped off the bed and placed over the chairs of the dining table. We played with my Barbies because that’s what Paula liked to do best. Since I didn’t have any Barbies that looked like her, I took a marker and colored one to resemble my friend. I even colored her blonde hair with that same marker. Miss Tiny gave me the biggest hug when I showed her but Paula didn’t like that doll. I don’t know why she didn’t like it but I played with the one that looked like my friend.. even when she wasn’t there.

The time came when when Miss Tiny and Paula no longer made Mondays any different than the rest of the week. I went off to grade school and even though I saw Paula there, our friendship had somehow changed. We didn’t interact often on the playground. The teachers kept us separated for the most part. I don’t think I understood why.. that was just the way things was expected to be in our small southern town. We grew up together in school, yet we were separate. Now I more fully comprehend just how sad that was. The growth of our friendship had been stunted.

Courage sometimes skips a generation. Thank you for bringing it back to this family.

I haven’t seen Miss Tiny or Paula since the day I graduated high school. They were both there and Paula took the honor of Valedictorian. Miss Tiny gave me one last squishy hug and told me how proud she was of me. It made me think back to the simpler days of time gone by. The days inside the walls of our house.. where race hadn’t mattered and two little girls just played like little girls. I sure do appreciate that my mother taught me that love has no color. That racial boundaries do not exist if you do not allow them and that we all dream, we all are special.

You is kind. You is smart. You is important.