The help in Jackson, 1963

We left Jackson, Mississippi in 1963, and went back to Louisiana. Maybe it was 1962. Mama and daddy moved me, my two sisters and my brother to Shreveport, where daddy would be starting his business. But after about six months or so, they decided we should go back to the place where we had all started out this life, Baton Rouge. I had been born there in 1951, at Our Lady of the Lake hospital. The reason I remember we moved back to Baton Rouge in ’63 is that I remember Sister Georgia, the principal of our Catholic junior high school coming in one afternoon to tell us that President Kennedy had been shot, and I remember riding my bicycle home in the rain that day. It was just a few months into my seventh grade, which had been my first school year in Baton Rouge, when Kennedy got shot in Dallas.

Mama and daddy had deep roots in Baton Rouge. For instance, my granpa on mama’s side had been assistant Sec. of State under four Louisiana governors, including Huey Long. My other granpa had come out of the piney woods of Mississippi to Baton Rouge to work at the Esso refinery, which was at that time the third largest oil refinery in the world, or so my daddy used to say. My daddy had married up, if you know what I mean, insofar as he found a Baton Rouge society girl, my soon-to-be mama, and convinced her to marry him, even though he was a Scots-Irish redneck from out in the mossy sticks somewhere out in the parish. Mama and her people were from that ole French strain  from across the River, they said Parisian, but I think mostly coonass.

When we got to back Louisiana, we were on penny-pinchin’  times, with dad trying to get a forestry-supply business started. We didn’t have a maid. But we had had one back in Jackson. Her name was Aleen.

But I’m here today to tell you about the city of  Jackson, since my childhood memories of the place have been freshly awakened by seeing The Help  movie just about an hour ago, this Sunday afternoon, August 14, 2011. I don’t usually go to movies in the daytime, but I made an exception this time since I had heard the story took place in Jackson at about  the same time that I was  growing up there, or about the time that we left there.  We moved back to Louisiana just a few months, I suppose, before Medger Evers was shot in Jackson in ’63.

We  had lived in Jackson for about nine years. Mama and daddy had moved there in 1953, or maybe it was ’54. I don’t really know which, since I was only about three years old at the time, and mama and daddy, God rest their souls, are no longer on this earth to confirm the date. It don’t matter anyway.

Mama, having been raised in Baton Rouge, had to have a maid, you know,  when she and daddy were starting a new household in Jackson, even though we lived in a rather small GI-bill house out in the suburbs of Jackson. Our maid’s name was Aleen.

Our phone number was EMerson 6-6852. Mama shopped at Jitney Jungle, where she would buy, I guess, all the foodthat she and Aleen would cook for our dinners and suppers, and for barbecues in the backyard, and for goodies that the ladies would snack on while mama was hosting bridge club.

One of my earliest memories was mama putting us kids in the car on a regular basis to take Aleen back to her house at the end of a working day. Aleen’s house was so different from our home; it was a shotgun shack on a dusty road out by the lake levee somewhere; it looked a lot like those small houses that Abilene and Minny lived in in that movie, The Help.

Now that I’ve seen the movie,  I understand a lot more about what was going on on the other side of Jackson’s tracks, in the area where Aleen and her people lived, when I was a clueless white kid in Jackson in the early 1960s. Thank you, Kathryn Stockett and Tate Taylor, for expanding my horizons. The amazing story you told has been helpful to me.

Glass half-Full

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