jayellebee's Blog

September 3, 2011

The Help

Filed under: Musings — Joanne @ 11:21 am

     A new friend-in-the-making invited me to see the movie, “The Help,” with her.  Neither of us had been to the movies in years (thank you, Netflix), and each of us reassured the other it is indeed legal for women of a certain age to attend the mid-week matinée.  Ladies of leisure, that’s us.

     We sat through several movie trailers prior to the afternoon’s main event.  An official notice preceded each, informing/warning the audience of the next preview’s rating:  G, PG13, or R.  Then, one ad began with the disclaimer, “This film has been approved for appropriate audiences.”

     “How do I know,” I leaned over the arm rest that separated us so as to whisper into my companion’s ear, “if I’m appropriate?”

     “You’re not,” she shot back, without missing a beat.

     How great is that?  This woman and I have spent precious little time together, and yet she already gets me!  And that’s especially gratifying because, so far, I’ve been on my good behavior in her presence.  No, really.  I haven’t spit even once and only cussed when provoked.  I predict great, mischievous shared experiences in our future.  However, I digress. 

     “The Help” features a flock of actors of whom I’ve never heard, salted with a couple of veterans like Sissy Spacek and Emma Stone.  The story is so well told, and is so strong, the film doesn’t need an ensemble cast.  The plot addresses the issue of race relations circa 1963 in Mississippi, but there is so much more to it.  Even if, like me, you grew up far from the blatant discrimination prevalent at that time in the deep south, odds are you will relate to the cruelty heaped upon society’s outcasts, or the lack of compassion and empathy with which we sometimes treat our elders.  “The Help” will make you laugh, AND it will make you think.

     I believe children learn vocabulary, behaviors, and attitudes, by listening and observing.  We parents, for better or worse, teach the next generation when we are least on guard.   A toddler does not question why the fleshy blob in the middle of her face is called “nose.”   Children come to accept the importance of removing shoes before climbing into bed.  Young people trust and respect – or not – authority figures for reasons they might find difficult to explain.   

      Just so, generations pass on racial slurs, bigotry, and prejudice – sometimes without considering the implications and injustices.   Words, behaviors, and attitudes are piled one on top of another.  Balanced, like a stack of rocks, daring the world to add to them, rearrange them, or knock them down.

     My mother was born in 1917.  She grew up referring to dark-skinned people as, “colored.”  This was normal in the culture in which she lived.  I know she didn’t mean to be derogatory when she used the word, but I encouraged her to adopt a different term by gently teasing her whenever the subject arose.

     “The colored man,” Mom might comment, “who runs the kitchen [at her retirement community] has the happiest laugh.”

     “Does he?”  I might respond.  “Tell me, what color is he, Mom?  Purple?  Green?”         

     She would roll her eyes and ignore the barb.

     I was born in 1949 and enjoyed reciting a common rhyme whenever we kids wanted to choose sides for a game.  The rhyme was just that.  Mostly gibberish.  

     “Ee-nie, mee-nie, my-nie, moe . . . .”

     I can’t even remember when I learned the rhyme contained a racial slur.  Nor can I remember anyone telling me not to use that hurtful word.  The term simply dropped from my working vocabulary when I became too old to worry about picking sides for neighborhood street games. 

     My oldest son was born in 1974.  The first time I observed him in a group of playmates picking sides, I held my breath.

     “Ee-nie, mee-nie, my-nie moe.  Catch a tiger by the toe.  If he hollers, let him go.  Ee-nie, mee-nie, my-nie, moe.”

     Exhale.  Sigh.  Move on.

     Mom spent the last three days of her life at the Bruns House, a Hospice care facility in Alamo, California.  The doctor in charge of patient care was exactly the right man for the difficult job.  He was soft-spoken and caring.  He knew the value of human touch.  And, his skin just happened to be the darkest shade of brown I have ever seen on a human being.  

     “Is there anything I can do for you, Jean?” he asked, at the end of his second daily visit with Mom.

     “Kiss?” she breathed more than spoke.

     “Do you want to kiss me?”  The gentle doctor smiled.  “Or, do you want me to kiss you?”

     “You.  Kiss me?”  Mom’s eyes held his.

     The handsome man bent low to kiss my mother’s cheek.  He brushed his fingers through the hair splayed across her forehead, nodded at me, and left her room.

     “Never been kissed.  By a black man.  Before,” Mom confided in me.

     “How was it?” I asked, taking in her carefully chosen words.

     “No different,” she assured me.

     I figure if a 93 year-old woman on her death-bed can change her ways, there’s hope for all of us.  Go see “The Help,” or read the book.  It will be time well spent, even if you’re not a lady of leisure.



  1. Hi joanne, I loved your post and the story about your mother was very touching; kind of like “Driving Miss Daisy.”Beautiful! I too saw “The Help” and loved it. Made me want to go and fight for someone! Having grown up in Canada I heard nothing about racial discrimination so had none. When I lived for a year in Jamaica and often was the only white person around, I thought nothing of it. Then I came to New York, and Eddie, Puerto Rican stock boy where I worked, explained how his people were discriminated against. It surprised me and, in fun, Eddie called me “Broad” and I called him, “Spic”. Best friends.
    Now the the subject is discussed all the time, children are taught about it in school. All kinds. Maybe like me, they’d never even have thought about it if the idea was not planted in their heads.
    Just my thoughts…

    Comment by Jil Plummer — September 3, 2011 @ 12:00 pm | Reply

    • Thanks for adding your story, Jil. It never ceases to amaze me how different life’s paths can be! Joanne

      Comment by Joanne — September 3, 2011 @ 12:26 pm | Reply

  2. Wonderful post, Joanne. I loved the movie. Showed the cruel side of human beings against one another. It reminded me of a mission trip we took to Haiti to meet our sponsored child through Compassion International. As shown in the movie, it was their faith that gave them hope and a smile to carry on under difficult and sometimes impossible situations.

    Comment by Chris Pedersen — September 3, 2011 @ 1:56 pm | Reply

  3. I love the moment with your mother. Well, actually I really like the entire piece: gently but strongly developed, a leisurely stroll from moment to moment of time and cultural attitude.

    Comment by Jean G — September 3, 2011 @ 3:20 pm | Reply

  4. Beautiful essay and so poignant.

    Comment by nina bucchere — September 3, 2011 @ 3:37 pm | Reply

  5. Joanne, this was absolutely wonderful. I enjoyed it so much. The facts that I have seen “The Help”, we grew up at the same time and in the same neighborhood, and I knew your mom, made it feel so very personal. What a beautiful ending!

    Comment by Jean Hall — September 4, 2011 @ 9:37 am | Reply

  6. Hi Joanne, I just recently read through your musings on your blog. Thanks so much for sharing so much of yourself. I loved your stories, your vivid descriptions and family.
    I cant believe you’ll be coming less and less to our CWC meetings.
    Thanks so much for your musings.

    Comment by Fran Wojnar — September 4, 2011 @ 9:45 am | Reply

  7. I loved the book and the movie as well. It does make you think. My father was from Richmond, Virginia, and black people were “Niggras” in our house when I was growing up in the 1940’s. By the time I got to high school, the eeny-meeny etc. had morphed into using the “Tiger” word. So at least in Kansas City and Connecticut, the N Word was gone from the rhyme buy the mid to late 50’s. Segregation still existed in the south and the vestiges of it continued long after the 1964 Civil Rights Act. I think the movie will do a lot to shine a light on how inhumane blacks were treated in the south. I hope it wins an Oscar.

    Sorry we won’t see as much of you at CWC, but I understand that the commute is a bit horrific!

    Keep writing your wonderful posts. I LOVE them!!!


    Comment by Bee Hylinski - Author and Baseball Fan — September 11, 2011 @ 2:28 pm | Reply

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