The View from Writers Roost
by WILLIS WEBB
May 31, 2013 | 3456 views | 0 0 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print
MY FAMILY’S experience with The Help predates the movie’s time setting by 15-20 years.

If you grew up in the South and had African-American ‘help’ in your home, then you probably saw and understood the movie. Many of us who were born in the late 1930s, 40s and early 1950s and whose parents had help in our homes can identify with the pride, passion and pain of this extremely well done story. The movie was based on a 2009 book of the same name written by Kathryn Stockett.

The Help debuted in 2011 and was nominated for four Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Actress and two cast members were each nominated for Best Supporting Actress. Octavia Spencer won the Oscar.

This film won the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture.

People born and raised outside the South who saw the movie, I’m sure felt at least that racism in the South was soft-pedaled in The Help. My experiences and recollections tell a different story.

BASICALLY, the maids in this movie, set in the early 1960s, are convinced by a young woman, the daughter of a well-to-do family, to tell of experiencing racism in their jobs. She has essentially been raised by her family’s maid and feels very strongly about the maid’s happiness and wellbeing.

The young white woman writes a book, using a fictional town and fictional names for the large group of maids that bare their souls to her. Some people figure out the book is about them. They are irate and vengeful. Some maids lose their jobs and are abused.

It is painful to watch and a sad commentary on race relations and the treatment of blacks in the South. Despite my journalism training, I was so wrapped up in The Help that I felt tears rolling down my cheeks more than once. There were moments of joy and good fun as well.

THOUGH I never knew my own family to mistreat any individual because of race, we didn’t speak out against the practices of separatism and the inferred inequality of African-Americans.

As a young boy, my family lived on a farm-ranch in an unpainted frame house. Dad and Mom bought and leased enough property to raise cattle and to grow crops for the principal purpose of feeding the cattle. Any feed overages were sold and the black families shared in that according to their time spent with each crop. Housing was part of their sharing as well.

On the Freestone County farm-ranch, three black families — Fred and Maylou Pruitt, Columbus and Beulah Henderson, and Good and Zell Durham — had similar but smaller houses.

My next oldest brother, Kerry, and I played with the Pruitt and Henderson children every day (the Durhams had none). We were miles from other families and, being pre-schoolers, saw little of anyone else.

Maylou assisted Mother in our house. They worked together cooking, cleaning, washing, ironing and seeing after the chickens. The other two pitched in as needed. Each home had their own garden in which they grew much of the food they ate. Each raised hogs and chickens as well.

Fred Pruitt was a versatile worker and the only one who could handle a horse well, so helped Dad tend the cattle.

ULTIMATELY, we moved to Teague and saw little of the three families except Maylou, who continued to help Mother with her chores with our growing family, now numbering three sons. Mother often referred to Maylou as her friend.

The family grew to four sons and as we all grew up and went off to school, there were long periods where we didn’t see the three tenant families. As we each left home, the load on Mother lessened and she was able to do without Maylou’s help much of the time. Finally, one brother, Clydell, was drafted into the Army and assigned to duty in Vietnam.

Upon completing basic training, he got a leave before shipping out. We were all visiting, and looked out the window as a car drives up and out steps Maylou. We all ran outside to greet her, coming our way, arms spread out and tears streaming down her cheeks: “I came to see my boys.”

Dry eyes were at a premium. Just like The Help.

Willis Webb is a retired community newspaper editor-publisher of more than 50 years experience. He can be reached by email at wwebb1937@att.net.
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