Dear Aibileen: Lead Character in The Help,
I don’t know you, yet I’d swear we’ve met. It must be the strength of your voice, drawing me from Austin, 2010 to slip into the heat of Jackson, 1963. There I’d be, sitting over bitter tea in your tight kitchen listening to the long years that have passed, like lost friends trying to reconnect. Being a storyteller with nothing more than typeset and bound paper, you know this was an accomplishment.
Sometimes, after we’d go through the trials of your day, I’d come up wondering if I had missed something by the lack of “help” in my childhood home. I especially loved when you’d play with little Mae Mobley, teaching her some of your back town wisdom:
“I want to yell so loud that Baby Girl can hear me that dirty ain’t a color, disease ain’t the Negro side of town. I want to stop that moment from coming—and it come in ever white child’s life—when they start to think of colored folks ain’t as good as whites.”
How did you dedicate yourself to a child (17 of them by the end) knowing they were destined to think less of you in the end? How many adults would reconsider parenthood if they knew their child’s view was going take a serious drop around the age of nine; that the child would see them as less than fully human, much less a diligent caretaker. Did you ever wonder if those children missed you in their adult lives? I’m betting they did. I’ve had points in my life where I could have used your “philosophizing.”
Everyone should have a lifelong friend like you had with Minny Jackson. I know because I’ve got one of those myself. There’s nothing better, when we’re battered or joyful , scared or brave, than to walk through the door into our best friend’s home. We need people who can see the truth in our eyes when we can’t bring ourselves to speak it. Minny said to you:
“She just don’t see em. The lines. Not between her and me, not between her and Hilly.”
“It ain’t true.”
“You talking about something that don’t exist.”
I shake my head at my friend. “Not only is they lines, but you know good as I do where them lines be drawn.”
Aibileen shakes her head. “I used to believe in em. I don’t anymore. They in our heads. People like Miss Hilly is always trying to make us believe they there. But they ain’t.”
“I know they there cause you get punished for crossing em,” I say. “Least I do.”
“Lot a folks think if you talk back to you husband, you crossed the line. And that justifies punishment. You believe in that line?”
I scowl down at the table. “You know I ain’t studying no line like that.”
“Cause that line ain’t there. Except in Leroy’s head. Lines between black and white ain’t there neither. Some folks just made those up, long time ago. And that go for the white trash and the so-ciety ladies too.”
I don’t need to ask if you and Minny made it to the end. Friendships like this never die, we value them, come to depend on them like a cool drink out of the faucet.
Synchronicity comes alive when brave souls take a stand at the right time in the perfect place. Knowing the risks you took and what it could have cost you and the other ladies made me consider; what would a risk, of equal caliber, look like in my time? Some things have changed for the better in the last 48 years but we still have social lines that are difficult to erase: religions that exclude, corporations basking as a monopoly, abortion rights, gay rights, women’s rights (if you’re trying to lay rights on anyone then you’re going to have a fight)… What line would be worth risking my future, my family, my very life? An interesting question.
Thank you Aibileen, for the long hours you spent whispering your story to Kathryn Stockett so that she could share it with the rest of us. How good it is to know there are still agents like Susan Ramer who hold the door open for an unpublished author. It takes one person to have a story, but it takes a steadfast group to give it breath. I’ll be purchasing a ticket and dragging a few of my girlfriends to see your story on the big screen.
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- I hope you never lose your sense of wonder… :: Omaha Children’s Photographer