- Special Sections
- Public Notices
When I spoke with one of my daughters about the treat in store for me, she got a case of the giggles. I told her that my friend Rita, who is a registered nurse, asked if I’d like to join her and her daughter plus another pal in viewing “The Help.” She felt that it would be a great venture to offset my increasing cabin fever. My daughter’s comment had me laughing. She said, “Isn’t that your first name these days, Help?”
Of course, the fact that Hurricane Irene was approaching, with its rain bands battering our area, didn’t assist Hubby Dear’s anxiety about my leaving the house without his help. There it is again, that word, “Help!” He mused about all the horrors that could come of my choice. He uttered, with the slightest of sarcasm, that I was a grown woman and he could not counter my options. Grown, but not privy to his dire predictions, I stood my ground. Truthfully, I dug in my heels, determined to test my wings, with the assistance of good friends!
Into the rain we raced, well, stumbled, carrying my now infamous emergency bag, pocketbook, flashlight, pad and pen for notes, items that have become part of me. Umbrellas didn’t do much to keep us from getting soaked and I forgot that I now needed to enter a vehicle rear-end first. Instead, I literally fell into the car, admonishing myself the whole time. Off we went, to meet our host pal who had already bought tickets and reserved seats that would ease our departure if I had an accident that needed tending. Her thoughtfulness was not in the least lessened by the fact that we four were among the 10 or so theatergoers.
Giggling away, we settled into our seats and readied ourselves to view a remarkable story of life during the 1960s in Mississippi. It was a tale of unlikely friendships. It spoke of the need for transformation and the painful process endured as people chose growth, or not.
I became totally submerged in the story, moved to tears by the sorrow inflicted by humans upon each other. Superficiality reigned, by choice or necessity. The help given, and it was truly given not fully funded, by black women in white households was accepted gratuitously. In a way, the Southern women could not be faulted. They were subjects of a society that perpetuated itself, presumably in fear that one breach in the dike of segregation would culminate in their ruin.
By contrast, the black women, they were not then designated as African Americans, were already feeling the constraints of fear. They were silent, but being readied to fight a system that kept them removed from the rest of humanity. Their presence was totally ignored. They were relegated to being “the help” but not our helpers.
Most interestingly, and somewhat strange, these women were the prime educators of the white children in the households they served. The children knew, honored, and appreciated that training, until they grew old enough to have families of their own. They fell into old patterns and ignorance regarding the equality of humankind. It was then that they forgot the uplifting messages they had received as children. They no longer remembered that they were kind, smart, and important as individuals, not because of their race, creed, or upbringing but simply because they existed as people. They no longer realized that it was not necessary to absorb the negative messages they might have received. It was not helpful to believe all the bad things anyone said about them on any given day.
It was noteworthy that the only church services portrayed were those attended by the black folk. Their hymns, Gospel songs, rang with the truth of freedom and courage. Their minister reminded them that courage sometimes skips a generation but gave thanks that it was being returned to God’s family. He did not deny the fact that bad things happen. However, he emphasized the purpose of life. He admitted what they already knew. It is hard to love one’s enemies. It is hard to tell the truth. It is hard to be who God made us to be, to be whom we truly are. Courage is overcoming fear and doing what is right for all humanity.
With those admonishments ringing in their ears, Aibileen and Minny decided to test the waters of their own courage. Fearfully, they were yet determined to tell their stories, the tales of women who were known only as the help. They were insistent that they would work to break the code of silence. They were committed to being women who served as helpers, not as objects to be used to fulfill the whim and will of others.
It was difficult to watch the hostility of one segment of society reign terror on others. It was inconceivable that one woman could keep hostage a whole group, proudly announcing her Home Health Sanitation Initiative that singly demanded outside toilets for the help with the reasoning that these women bore illnesses foreign to their Caucasian employers. Despite limited hesitation, the initiative was carried out.
A sole white woman entered this unique battle of the sexes. Skeeter Phelan, a college graduate who was not interested in husband-hunting as her main goal in life, decided to tell the stories of the help. She, and they, found themselves in frightening territory with enemies surrounding them and secrecy their only weapon. She had absorbed the message given by Aibileen to another little girl. Skeeter wanted only to convey that message to the women who trusted her with their life as they told her their tales. Skeeter managed to echo the verity others had been given. She conveyed the message to the women who gathered in secret, not with words but with her consistent presence: “You are kind, smart, and important.”
She would learn this about herself as she modeled it for others. Born into a free family and enjoying all the privileges that came with being a white woman, Skeeter found a remarkable sisterhood among the women she decided to help. Their lives, white and black, transcended all boundaries, real and imagined.
One final story remained untold. It would complete the book. It was Skeeter’s story of her profound friendship with the help, a friendship that surpassed the air kisses and snide remarks she had previously exchanged with her childhood friends. Telling her story gave her a freedom she’d never anticipated.
Telling our stories can do the same. Will we accept that challenge?