Wednesday, March 27, 2013


My parents were divorced by the time I went into the first grade.

Before that, both of them worked. I guess daycare centers existed in the early 60s, but my younger brother and I didn't spend any time in them. Instead we were looked after by a black woman named Corrine Wilson.

I don't remember that much about Corrine. She was big, but when you're very small, everyone and everything seems big.

This recollection was sparked by a recent viewing of the movie "The Help." I don't consider West Texas part of "the south" but prevailing attitudes were more southern than enlightened in the early 1960s.

Little Rock was just a few years before. The Freedom Rides were in 1961. The March on Washington was in 1963. The civil rights movement was in full swing, but change was slow.

My mother was on the new wave of women's rights in that she had an actual career. Before 1960, there weren't as many women in the workplace unless they were in stereotypical roles such as teaching, nursing, or secretarial. My mom worked as an accountant. So somebody had to look after the kids after my brother was born in early 1962.

I realized a divide, although I was too young to understand it. But on a few occasions my father would drive Corrine home. Her home was on the other side of the tracks, in a segregated part of town. Once, in the summer, I remember my brother and I being over there. My brother was tiny, no more than three or four. Corrine's house seemed old and huge, with a single big tree for shade out front and scattered empty, dusty lots in the patchwork neighborhood.

I asked my parents for their memories:

"She was a good girl, She lived in the flats. Near where the train hit some folks. (NOTE: There was a railroad disaster recently involving a military parade in my hometown of Midland, Texas.)  
"She was a religious girl. She took care of y'all. We probably paid her very little, maybe $50 a week, something like that. Our first house payment was less than $100 -- 1110 East Spruce was our first house. (NOTE: I did not know this.) We moved to Erie and the payment doubled.
(How did you find her?) "I guess we put an ad in the paper. Your mom interviewed three or four black gals. She was religious so we went with her, hired her. She stayed with us a long time. She helped a bunch, raised you two. She called Curtis (my brother, whose middle name is Edwin) Curtis EGWIN. She was probably about 45 or 50."


"How weird to think of her at this point in time! I thought about her a few years ago and wondered if she was still alive and where she might be but had no Internet to even think about searching.
(I remember thinking she was from Hartford, presumably Connecticut.) "I know nothing about Hartford. Could it have been Hartford, Arkansas? She wasn't married but she had some children. I remember a daughter and I think she had others but have no recollection of them. She lived literally on the other side of the tracks east of Midland by that tank farm out there and she got to work every day on her own and I took her home every day with you guys in the car. She started working for us when I went back to work in August of 1959 and worked until the divorce changed my financial condition so much I couldn't afford to pay her. I was sad to let her go but had no choice.
"She was pretty dependable and didn't miss many days. She did some housework for me. Something funny was that she would eat all the good food in the house! Like, if we had steaks, she'd eat them and I'd find out I didn't have two in the freezer when I got ready to cook. But she never stole anything.
"When Curtis came home she had double duty and handled it well. Curtis was allergic to milk and until we discovered that and put him on soy milk he would be pretty good during the day while she was there and I would walk the floor with him at night and have to work the next day with very little sleep.
"I guess she must have been in her early 40s when she was working for me, but I'm not sure. Her daughter must have been about 20 or maybe a little younger, and her other kids were younger than her daughter.
"I remember when James Meredith was trying to get into Ole Miss, she called him the n-word. I asked her why she used that word and she said 'N's use the n-word all the time on each other." That was the first time I'd ever heard that.
"She was a very positive force in my life and I was amused when Curtis started trying to talk, my father said 'You know who he sounds like, don't ya?' and he was right -- Curtis started speaking like Corrine."

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