These are my personal memories from my childhood. This is neither an apology nor a praise of a particular way of life.
In the 1930, at the beginning of the depression, a decently dressed black woman knocked on my grandparents’ back door, and asked if they had housework for her to do. She introduced herself as Daisy Burton, who had just come to the city of Texarkana from Garland City, a settlement about 30 miles east. She thought she would have better luck finding work there.
And so Daisy joined the family. Mama was 10 years old when Daisy came to work for them. Mama always said one of the reasons she was such a poor housekeeper was because every time Nannie assigned her a job to do, like picking up her clothes, making her bed, or dusting her room, Daisy scurried up the stairs and did it before they finished breakfast.
In 1935, President Roosevelt got Social Security passed, and Gankie insisted Daisy had to sign up. She had a problem, though. Part of the application required that you put your age down, and Daisy didn’t know how old she was. When she was born, nobody registered births for black babies. It was a conundrum, until she realized her cousin, Ellick lived next door to her, and he knew how old he was. He was able to dig back in his memory to swear he was three years old when his mama took him to see the new baby in the family. So with a signed affidavit from him, she was able to sign up for Social Security. She was 45 years old at the time.
Daisy didn’t really know how to cook when she first came to work for Nannie. Nannie was a wonderful cook, and she took the time to teach Daisy how. Nannie’s recipe for making cookies said, “Mix one egg, two cups of milk, a gollop of molasses. Add flour mixed with a little baking soda. Beat it, and keep adding more flour until it sounds right.” That’s the kind of recipe that must be shown in person.
Daisy owned her own house several blocks from Nannie and Gankie’s house. It was what is known as a “shotgun” house. The front door opened to a long hall, with a living room on one side and a bedroom on the other. Behind those two rooms were another bedroom and a bathroom. At the back was a big kitchen. Out the kitchen door was a garden where she grew vegetables, and a chicken run where she kept chickens to provide eggs and occasionally meat for the table. She always said the chickens fertilizer was the best thing for growing flowers. and vegetables.
The best birthday dinner I ever had was when I was 10 years old. I LOVED fried chicken, so Daisy killed one of her littlest hens and fried it up for me to have. I got the WHOLE chicken for my dinner that day. I think the rest of the family got to have fried chicken, too, but that one was just for me.
Every now and then, Papa would agree to take us fishing, so the afternoon before we all took empty cans over to Daisy’s house and “scared up” some worms from the chicken yard. The ground there was soft and easy to work but we didn’t have to dig for the worms. We took a stick, put one end of it in the ground (you didn’t have to stick it in, just rest the tip on the ground), and then rub the stick with another stick. worms would come squirming out of the ground almost faster that we could pick them up.
About the time we moved to New Jersey, Daisy realized she was no longer able to stand in the kitchen or get down to wash the baseboards, so she retired. Nannie and Gankie still supported her, bringing her Gankie’s shirts to iron, and taking her a box of groceries every week. She insisted on coming back to cook Christmas dinners, and always loved seeing us when we returned to Texarkana.
When I got engaged to Big Al, Daisy’s was one of the first places we went with the announcement. And when son #1 was born, I took him over to see her. She and several of her friends had spent the whole fall piecing a patchwork quilt and quilting it for “the new baby.” I carried him into her house, and she burst into tears, saying “Looking at that little face is just like looking at the Baby Jesus.”
Daisy died while we were away. Mama and Nannie went to her funeral. The church was packed, but they were put in the front as “family”. Mama said they were the only white faces in the congregation, but they appreciated being singled out.
She is buried in the “colored” section of the cemetery where lots of members of my family including grandparents, great-aunts, and great-uncles, etc. are buried. I tried to find her grave, several years ago, but there’s no headstone, and that section of the cemetery doesn’t have perpetual care. Most of the graves are overgrown, and some are sunken.
I told my sisters I was writing this today, and one said, “Nannie and Gankie allowed her to become a part of the family. They experienced her sweet goodness and responded.” It was definitely “white paternalism”, but there was also love, and appreciation there.