Lucy Mae's Comforting Arms

By: Christina J. Johns

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Lucy Mae Hollis became part of our family in 1947 when my brother was born. My father had only been back from the war for two years, but he was already working a full-time white-collar job and going to college at night.

That left all the responsibility of running the household to my mother.

Now, my mother hates housework, and her one source of independence from the 1950's dysfunctional family pattern of stay-at home, martini drinking, pill popping wife, was her part-time job at the Red Cross. She was not going to give it up. So the family got Lucy Mae.

Four years later, I got Lucy Mae as well. She was there at the hospital when I was born. Oh, they wouldn't let her into the waiting room with my father, of course. Things were still segregated then. There were "white only" signs all over Lanier.

But, when my Daddy rolled mother out the front door of the hospital in a wheelchair, cradling me in her arms, the first thing mother did was deposit me in Lucy Mae's huge and capable hands.

I stayed in those hands until I was about 12 and felt myself much too grown up and sophisticated to be rocked in Lucy Mae's comforting arms. But, Lord, there were a great many times later on in my life when I would have given anything to have those arms around me again.

Lucy Mae didn't talk much during all those years when we were growing up. Lucy Mae was a pretty closed-mouthed individual unless she had something important to say. She didn't tell stories like Pearl, or Mary, or some of the other women who worked for the families of my friends. And it would have never crossed her mind to gossip about people in town. I don't even remember Lucy Mae playing with us. While she was there, she worked.

Oh, she took care of us, she knew where we were every minute, and I know that she was always listening out for us. I know this because she had the uncanny ability to appear out of nowhere just before we were about to wreak serious damage to the house, or when we were about to kill ourselves.

I remember one afternoon, especially, when Lucy Mae appeared in the doorway of my brother's room just in time to find my brother and I peering down the barrel of a lighted roman candle.

"Git back." She ordered just in time to save the eyesight of two children. Five fireballs hit the ceiling in rapid succession while my brother, sat too dumbfounded to do anything but hold the candle upright. We were fortunate he did. Had he not, we might all three have died by Roman candle that fateful afternoon. It would not have been a romantic way to die.

"Lord have mercy on my soul." Was all Lucy Mae said as she walked back to the kitchen to get something to clean up the smut all over the ceiling. But that's all she said. She didn't scold us or even tell on us.

When my mother came home she would have to have been struck blind during the day not to have noticed the scared ceiling in my brother's room, but even then, Lucy Mae stood silent when my mother asked what happened.

We had to confess.

But curiously enough, my mother didn't scold us either. She just listened, her face growing ashen, closed her eyes and shook her head. She then turned and went to her room.

So, for 12 years of my life, Lucy Mae Hollis was the one who was there to tend skinned knees, bandage scraped arms from bicycle accidents, put tobacco on bee stings and phone my mother at work when I stuck an ice pick through my hand. But, she didn't talk.

That's probably why she and my mother have gotten along so well all these years.

My mother is an intensely private person; a person who likes being alone. Having someone in her house six days a week was not something she became accustomed to easily.

But, over the years, Mother and Lucy Mae came to understand each other about as well as two people can separated as they were by race, social position, and class.

During over fifty years of shared experience, sympathy and mutual help, the bond between my mother and Lucy Mae became solid as a rock.

Lucy Mae Hollis was there when I was born, and she was there last year when my father died. She stood uncomfortably in the receiving line at the funeral home, and when we both became too heart-sick to go on standing there, we shared a huge overstuffed chair and I rested in those arms once again.


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