I grew up in the Bahamas and, although we were not rich by any means, we had a maid to cook, clean, and who was home with me after school. My mother referred to these women as the "help". I think this is why Kathryn Stockett’s novel The Help resonated with me so much. My mom was a real estate agent in those days and we moved every few years, and I have fond memories of all the homes we lived in but we never had a maid stay with us for very long. Perhaps my mom was not the easiest to please or perhaps I was as spoiled as they all called me. I would not eat or even try the food they cooked; I clammed up in their presence and was not an easy child to connect with.
There was never only one maid, but a series of Jamaican, Bahamian, and Haitian women who cared for our home and kept me safe. I was spellbound by these women, big and small, who talked so fast and communicated with their hands, face, and bodies, which varied in color from creamy coffee brown to darkest ebony–they fascinated me. They were unlike any other women I’d ever seen; carefree, real, happy at least in the moments we were alone together or with other maids, their friends. Mostly I remember the laughter; deep throaty belly laughter with shrill comments tossed out in their native language. It didn’t matter—laughter is a universal language and I never felt they were laughing at me but with me and teaching me how to lighten up.
I was a solitary withdrawn child with many fears and zero social skills. In my memory these women were larger than life, filling the kitchen with foreign scents and the room with their colorful presence. I could no more leave the room as frightened as I was by their zest for life than I could tear my eyes away from their lovely bronze skin and brilliant clothes. Their brown hands were strong, sure, and always kind but firm whether they were cooking cleaning or bathing me. I wanted those hands with all my heart. I simply had no words to express my desire for them. Mine were tiny pale weak things and never did exactly what I wanted them to do. I am incredibly grateful for all those working hands that also cared and touched a child more deeply than they’ll know.
Here’s to the help—the women that molded me—who showed me what living large and authentically looked like, women who lived zestfully with great passion and offered a glimpse into a different world for a small soul aching to belong in this wide, wide world.