She wore a white cloth diaper with lots of safety pins stuck through it on her head, wrapped like a turbin surrounding her stubby areas of black hair that still remained., other areas with no hair. The thick glasses were handed down from the local eye bank or probably my father and she finally got a telephone in her wooden shanty when she was 90 years of age. Time stood still in Cameron SC and it still does.
Daisy imprinted herself on me as a baby, from the time our eyes locked, having lived over 70 years and counting when she came to be our “Mammy”. In the south, they were not housekeepers or babysitters but lovingly called Mammy’s. Today, even fourty years plus later, Mammy is not an appropriate term or considered politically correct when speaking of the hired “help.” She was not that, she was so much more. She was a boo boo kisser, a spanker when it called for it, a bean shucker, a flu shot giver, and a hugger, the most important quality of any good Mammy, a hugger.
To me Daisy was not hired help but my family. No matter what the white folks thought of her or how they treated her, she still was like my second mother and I am white, she was Black, but I am not describing the difference in our colors, rather the important difference in the mindsets that shaped these derogatory cultures that spawned slavery. A dreaded curse for the south and having to relive it whenever I say I am from the South, that is the first thing that people think of. I get asked so many times, “Have you seen the movie the help?” Yes, and Yes to what you are going to ask me.
There are fond memories of her sitting on the living room couch, or chair watching tv with a corn cob pipe in her mouth, the hair wrap, and her very thick coke bottle bottom glases, shelling beans or peas while we played with our toys. The moth ball smell never came out of her clothes and she had the “black smell” that only particular older blacks from the South had. It was in her skin and such a distinct smell that if she were to come around me now, I could pick her out of a hundred souls because of her skin’s smell.
I was known as the boy baby. Not because I am a boy, but rather a tom boy among girls. I had all the bumps and bruises on my body that my baby brother should of had. I was rough and tumble, tree climing, bush hogging female. So with that kind of nature, I was very accident prone. Mama threatened to name me Grace. That was how my parents and especially Daisy could tell me apart from my very feminine twin sister Amy, was that I was the wearer of plastic bandaids and the bearer of deep scars.
She never learned to read or write always signing her name with an x when asked. Picking cotton in the fields of South Carolina were left to the blacks starting at the age of of a child, and no one ever knew how old she really was when the good Lord called her home because they did not give birth certificates to slaves or children of slaves. Daisy’s mother and father were what history books speak about, the chained African American’s of long ago, sold openly on the slave market in cities such as Charleston and she was one of many children in her family that grew up and lived in Cameron SC.
Married at age 13, Daisy had 9 children, some not making it out of the womb, or maybe she was 9 years of age when she married and had 13 children. I simply can’t remember that part. When she died, her alcoholic son Thomas, was there but most had already gone on to be with their Lord. Why did the almighty let her live so long? Daddy thought she was well, well over 100 years of age when she died but sadly, there was no way to prove it.
When Mama and Daddy had bridge club nights out, all of us children, four in total would line up on the couch and watch Daisy sleep in the leather chair. Her body would jump violently and we would start crying and screaming, never waking her up. She slept like the dead when she closed her eyes. We were afraid she was having a heart attack in her sleep or feared the worst, she was dead. Sometimes she did it to pull a prank on us. Doctors kids know everything about everything and we swore she was dying. Mama and Daddy would eventually come rushing home to find everything normal as it should have been and Daisy still alive.
When Daddy died, I gave Daisy Daddy’s wheel chair. I wheeled her upfront to be with the family, and covered her up with his blanket. She was family. She was my cherished Daisy and no one was going to tell me otherwise. Color didn’t matter to me. It never did. Even when the community of Cameron SC made my father build a waiting room onto his medical clinic for the coloreds, the blacks in the 1970’s or 1980’s, because they smelled funny, I never saw color.
Being the outcast, rebel and instigator, I enrolled in the Miss Black Orangeburg pageant. I did it to cut the stigma between colors. The audience gasped when I walked out on stage. It was to prove a point at age 15. I did exactly that. Even though it was not the right kind of point to make, maybe it coming from a teenager who hated the segregation even in modern times, might have touched someone. I did it. I did it to prove there is no difference in color of a human being. I can still hear that loud gasp from the hundred or so patrons and some certain members of the audience saying, “What in the hell is that crazy Lawton girl thinking?”
Today, my soul says go home, just go home Mary to the piece of history that few know about. To that special place that doesn’t exist today. I will, eventually, but I don’t think the time is right. The sad part is seeing what the South still believes in. If I could have given Daisy more, I would have because she gave me so much. She gave me the biggest hug of my life.
Copyrighted, TM 2000 from my book