My name is Cynthia and I love interior design, architecture, antiques, all things vintage, all things British (a tried and true Anglophile), a love of things that are time worn and hold secrets of days gone by. I love animals and try to respect their place in our world. I enjoying talking about the most beautiful places in the world, some exotic, some in our own neck of the woods. I love family and friends, music and movies. And most importantly, I love talking about these things with a daily dose of humor because I love to laugh and we all deserve to. So come on...let's go for a stroll.

AND PLEASE CLICK ON THE ENTRY AND LEAVE ME A COMMENT - I can't talk to you if I don't know you were here, dearest dahling...


Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Help -- Annie...She Was So Much More Than "The Help"

Annie Sanders, 2008, age 99 years.  This is the only photograph I have of Annie

I recently saw the much talked about film, The Help. I must say that I enjoyed it immensely.  I'm thrilled to see it receiving recognition at this year's Oscars and am rooting for Viola Davis in particular for Best Actress.  If you haven't seen it already, I urge you to take a look.

One of the reasons that this film touched me so is because it reminds me of one of the most important people in my life and the lives of my family members, a dear sweet woman named Annie Sanders.  Annie was an African American woman who "worked" for my family from the late 1930's until the late 1980's.  I hesitate to use the term "work" because she was so much more than an employee.  Like the black women whose lives are the center of The Help, Annie was a Jacqueline of All Trades, responsible for the laundry, ironing, cleaning, and most importantly, responsible for helping in the raising of my mother, Anne and my uncle, Fred.  Unlike the Caucasian women of Jackson, Mississippi portrayed in The Help, my grandmother was employed full time early on at the Food Town grocery store on Westview Drive in Atlanta.  My grandfather was a Sargent in the U.S. Army and stationed at Fort McPherson on Lee Street.  Because my mother and father divorced when I was 6 years old, my mother and I lived with my grandparents and thus, I was around Annie throughout my childhood...listening to her and my grandmother argue about the best product for polishing wood floors, how to cook turnip greens and how much butter you should add to grits.  Later, when my grandmother had stopped working briefly to be at home with my mother and her brother, I remember how she and Annie always rested long enough to watch their "stories," The Edge of Night, As The World Turns, and The Guiding Light.  They later added The Young and the Restless to their list of afternoon must-see television (which is why they started working at sun up and didn't finish until sun down).  While watching The Help, Sissy Spacek's character makes the comment, "Shhh....I'm watching my story."  I had to immediately rewind and watch the scene all over again, as it brought back memories from 40 years ago...I haven't heard anyone call a daytime soap opera a "story" in a month of Sundays.  It made me smile.  I find this hard to fathom, but like the women who worked for the white families in The Help, Annie used the same glass, flatware and plate and bowl at every single meal.  I guess you could say that my grandmother was in some ways a product of the South where she was born, raised, lived and died.  In other ways, she was very progressive.  For instance, even though Annie only used certain flatware and dishes, she ate at the table with us at every meal.  Also, knowing that Annie had no husband, no children and did not possess a drivers license, she made sure that Annie had a way to cast her vote during the elections...once that is, she was allowed to vote.  My grandmother made sure that Annie always had someone drive her where she needed to go...not just to our house for work, but to church or the grocery store, whether it be my mother, my uncle, my grandfather or a family friend.  My mother shared with me the story of how, during the time that my grandmother was working at the grocery, Annie would hold my mother's hand and walk with her to the street car, where they would catch the trolley to Rich's Department Store in downtown Atlanta (as previously noted, Annie had no drivers license).  On their first outing alone together, the car operator told my mother that she could ride up front, but that Annie would have to ride in the back of the car.  My mother, being the spitfire that she was, not so politely told the operator, "that's Annie...she's my mammy and she can sit with me if she wants to."  He told my mother that maybe they should get off the car, which my mother proudly told him they would be happy to do.  Realizing that they wouldn't be able to go to Rich's, and upon Annie's insistence, my mother gave in, but not until she made sure she rode as far back as possible and that Annie rode as far up as possible, so that my mother could turn around in the seat and talk to her the entire way there and back again.

Annie worked with my family until she was 80 years old.  She and my grandmother continued to argue over cleaning products, cooking methods and anything else they could think of.  As the years went by, it didn't matter which glass Annie drank from, and I happily remember Annie eating at our table with us, not at another table in another room.  In her later years, she grew feeble and was unable to live alone.  With no immediate family, we were all that she had.  She sold her home and went to live in an elderly high rise apartment building in the West End of Atlanta.  My mother, my grandmother and I visited her often (my grandfather passed in 1988).  I used to love to go there, and I always admired her apartment, with its photos of John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. hanging proudly over her sofa, which was covered in the clear plastic slipcovers that she had used for as long as I could remember.  I got such a kick out of how she introduced us to the other elderly men and women who lived in the building, all of whom were also African American.  She always said, "These are my good white friends and I raised her," pointing at my mother.  I remember when, after she was well beyond her days of scrubbing floors on her hands and knees, beyond spanking my mother's bottom for giving the family dog her sandwich instead of eating it, beyond having to sit on the back of the bus, she would come to stay with my grandmother overnight.  By this time, I was married and living in a suburb of Atlanta and would stop by the high rise to pick her up on my way home from my job in downtown Atlanta.  The story was that she was going to help my grandmother do some things around the house, when actually, they missed one another and simply wanted to watch "Dallas" or their  "stories" together.  Years later, after my grandmother's passing, Annie continued to visit us, staying with my mother.  I think she knew how much we loved her...adored her...not for working for us, but for living among us and loving us.

My grandmother passed away in 1996.  At her funeral, I stood at the podeum in the chapel to read a tribute I had written to her.  As I stood there, I looked lovingly upon my family.  I remember Annie sitting next to my mother, holding my mother's hand and wiping her own eyes, nodding every time I made mention of things she knew to be true.  Annie died in 2009, not long after my mother passed.  Her only living relative, a second cousin, had lost our contact information and was unable to get in touch with us.  My step-father and I were distracted by my own mother's terminal illness and had not been to see her in the last three months.  Sadly, Annie had suffered from severe dementia and no longer recognized her visitors.  But she always recognized my mother and never failed to say "I raised you."  My mother would tear up and say "yes you did, sure did."  My mother never left there without telling Annie that she loved her and she never left without first interrogating the nursing home staff about Annie's care and to make sure that Annie got the tapioca pudding and Sprite drinks my mother brought each week.  The last time we visited her, I was touched to see my daughter's class photo front and center on her night stand, and inscribed in Annie's handwriting on the back "sweet Sarah".  She did raise us.  All of us.

Like Abeline in The Help, Annie spent her life raising the children of a white family and like Abeline, she was loved and respected by the these children.  Unlike Abeline, this love and respect was felt toward her by my entire family.  I can only hope we did right by her.  I can only hope she knew how much she was loved and what her sacrifices meant to us.  She was a great woman...not because she took care of a white family from Atlanta, but because she lived a selfless life, full of dignity, grace, courage, and goodness.  I love you, Annie.

My grandmother is 3rd from right wearing eyeglasses -- love this photo - notice how everyone
is drinking and smoking -- what we didn't know back then

My uncle, Fred Nunn, 1949, age 14 years

My mother, Elizabeth Anne Nunn Poliquin, 1958, age 18 - notice that skunky blonde streak in her hair  - too funny

Another photograph of my mother Anne, 1958, age 18 years - I'm especially fond of this photograph -
I adore her dress and hat -- she was always compared to actress Natalie Wood -- but she was
most certainly her own woman

My grandmother, Elizabeth Griffith Ford, doing the standard "stand next to the car pose" that everyone did back in the to the 1969 Chevrolet Corvair...which turned out to be a clunker of a car in this case

My mother, grandmother and uncle, Easter, 1960, one year before I was born.  One can certainly appreciate
the comparisons of my mother to Natalie Wood from the looks of her in this photograph -- she was stunning

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