Skip to content

The Help, My Help

I know that I purchased The Help on January 7, 2010 because my Amazon account told me so. It was a good book. It wasn’t great. It started beautifully and everyone loves a good Southern Novel. There’s richness in the characters of south that we all love.

I wanted to love the book. I devoured the first two thirds of the book but then I was disappointed as the author dragged the ending out and had a need to package it up tidily. I saw the movie and I think it’s the first time I’ve ever seen a movie and thought, “that was better than the book.”

I know some people find the movie offensive. I guess I can see that. Historically it’s probably at least partly accurate but I sat alone in the movie theater wondering what I would do if one of my past housekeepers walked in. Would I sit with her? Would I know her children’s names?

We had help. Barbara came three times a week to our house after school and her daughter Debbie babysat us every morning before school. Debbie only missed one day of work. It was to go to the radio station and see Peter Frampton on his birthday. When I was six Debbie was a few minutes late to watch us, she was crying. Her father had just died.

I loved going to Barbara’s house. She would make us Jello recipes like the ones Bill Cosby showed on commercials. She used Cool Whip and she even had white bread. She said fuck and shit a lot. She’d taught herself English and apparently had started with the cussing. I loved Barbara and I’d like to believe that Barbara loved me back. We celebrated many Mother’s Days with Barbara and my mom. They were the women who shaped us.

When I was pregnant Barbara helped me get my house in order. Shortly after Jane was born Barbara died and I unimaginably raised a child that she never really knew.

In my teenage years there were Nellies, and Marthas, there were Letties and Mayras, but in my heart there was only Barbara. I’m not sure that The Help isn’t a movie that couldn’t be filmed today. I look at the Dream Act and those who would like to kill it, and I wonder if they were ever rocked by a Central or South American Nanny who sang them songs, and with a slip of the tongue called them by the wrong name, her own child’s name.

I don’t think The Help is our past. For a completely different (and probably better written) perspective read this. Now.

9 thoughts on “The Help, My Help”

  1. I appreciate this post so much, Jessica. I read and really loved the book and have mostly looked forward to the movie, but of course I realize that Hollywood does what they do and it might be a disappointment. Now, though, I’m definitely looking forward to seeing it when my small town theater shows it beginning next week. Obviously, Barbara had a huge influence on your life with such strong memories so many years later. She sounds like she was such an amazing gift in your life.

  2. It sounds like your mother taught you to appreciate Barbara as more than just “help” and I think that’s important. We teach our children what attitude they should have about others without necessarily thinking about it, but they’re watching our every action and utterance.

  3. Jessica,

    Thank you for this lovely post. I had issues with the book and the movie, but overall appreciated the story, the entertainment value and Kathryn Stockett’s courage in telling a story that would draw much ire. It had a definitive perspective and once I looked at it through that lens, it made it much easier to appreciate its beauty. I’m glad that it pushed you to think about Barbara and the contribution she made to your family. The Help dug up some memories for me, too, and I’m grateful that you saw fit to invite your readers to see another point of view. 

  4. Amy @ Living Locurto

    I find this all so interesting. I was from the south and never had help. We were too poor to even think of something like that, we could have been the help if anyone in my small town could have afforded it:-) I guess I would have been Celia in the movie. You do bring up a great point that this isn’t only our past. I see hispanic and South American women pushing strollers all the time. When I take my kids to our community pool, I get to know the nannies well before the actual mothers of children in my neighborhood.

  5. I had, among others, blue-haired Sarah, who called me Baby and defended me against my sister.  She was very worried, however, that I would end up an Old Maid as my parents wouldnt let me date.  I was 13!

  6. <-Poor southern girl here…But I'm also more "modern"…My mother would not have had help even if she could afford it.  Sure, she hired a babysitter now & again when she needed someone to get up with us when she worked early…but that was about it.

    I have a hard time understanding what people are talking about…when they mention the struggle or plight of "sad black help".  I guess being from a place where African Americans are not a minority changes my perspective.

    My grandmother was raised with "Help"…a southern family with a black mammy.  When she was an adult & was raising her children she *sometimes* had help – the daughter of my grandfather's #1 construction foreman.  A black man who was paid well, had benefits, & a retirement plan…And this was pre-1960s.  My grandfather was born a white Marine officer's child in Haiti…He ONLY knew black people (minus his family) until he was almost a teen.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *