Thursday, February 10, 2011

Missing those you left behind: Amelia says goodbye

I have recently had the sad task of sorting through my parent's debris, sorting through their lives and their things and taking what I wanted from it. In my old room, interestingly enough the maid's room, I found a pile of letters and postcards and brought them home. Opening them, I began to read and then began to sob. The first was from the woman who cared for me till I was five. Her name was Mrs. David, at least that was the name I used. She was a tall, imposing Jamaican. The bond between us mattered a great deal.

Yes I've read The Help. It seemed a bit simplistic if compelling. What intrigues me more than that fictional take on women who raise other women's children is my own relationship with Mrs. David. I visited her for years after we moved away from Washington. She wrote me on my birthday. We loved each other in an honest and deep way. Yet I have no way of finding out about her now. I ache to talk to her grandchildren, to find out who she was and how she lived. But the means to do so eludes me.

I credit her with making me who I am. I'm not discounting my mother's impact, but I have seen how important it is to be with a child in that daily way during their formative years. Mrs. David opened her heart to me. And I to her. I think that I was lucky to know her and to have her.

We leave so many people behind. Sometimes we have to in order to make something of ourselves. We need to find what we do best, or who we are. Amelia left her family and friends, she left lovers and husbands and a public who adored her. I left someone who loved me behind long long ago. And resisted thinking about it because it was so painful. Still, I had no choice. And really, neither did Amelia.


  1. Never having been cared for by nannies, I have no idea what that kind of childhood feels like. Does it create a great deal of emotional distance between child and biological parent? Did you feel like you had two mommies? Did you want to be closer to your biological mother, or were you entirely satisfied with the arrangement?

  2. To be honest, what was wonderful about having someone caring for me who was warm and affectionate was that I emerged from childhood more or less intact. She was my mother. I credit her with giving me that deep seated belief one has in one's self. One has to have that to attempt to be a writer, or a pilot, or really anything that isn't a typical or easy path to follow. She saved me. My mother who I did love was someone I took care of, she went from being this powerful distant figure to becoming this much less powerful depressed woman when we moved away. She gave up a career she'd built so my father could have his own, that same year her father died. And she worked at a job where the men in charge tortured her. All in all it was a strange adjustment for her, and for me. My siblings have an absolutely different take on all of this because they're ten and twelve years older than I am.

  3. Were your siblings also taken care of by Mrs. David?

  4. They're ten and twelve years older so she wasn't the primary caregiver.