Mary Katherine

Junebug loved staying home from school with Mary Katherine, their housekeeper who had taken care of Junebug since she was born. When Mary Katherine rang the doorbell in the morning before school, Junebug ran to the door and Mary Katherine smiled with her gold front tooth and hugged her hard and often whispered  "I have something for you." She followed her into the laundry room and Mary Katherine would sneak her a piece of candy. Junebug hugged her again and most mornings she did not want to leave her side. It was easy to convince her mom that her asthma was bad and she needed to stay home. 

After everyone left the house, it felt like there was more room to breathe. Junebug sat with Mary Katherine while she folded laundry at the kitchen table and watched The Price Is Right. "Come on down" Junebug would hear Bob Barker say in the background while Mary Katherine talked to her about her life. She knew the sadness she felt was very small compared to the hardships Mary Katherine faced. She was the mother of thirteen children and married to a nice man named James who worked hard but like so many African Americans, there was too much to overcome.

She was a proud woman who was embarrassed she did not know how to read. She loved to brag that she was not fat like other housekeepers but you could tell her thick panty hose she wore to help with circulation and her eye that was constantly twitching put a dent in her vanity. Mary Katherine was a very beautiful woman who had her own style and with a better life, she would have been stunning.

Mary Katherine complained about her church friends who hurt her feelings but that did not stop her from singing hymns, which were the words Junebug heard most often of God in her house. Junebug preferred Mary Katherine's warm church to her chilly synagogue and her hot homemade rolls were the best. 

After she was done with folding laundry and cleaning, they would go to the TV room where Mary Katherine ironed and Junebug sat with her. She loved to listen to the soothing sound of the steam coming from the iron as the wrinkles magically disappeared like the sadness that would evaporate for the moments when they kept each other company.  

When she was done with her work, Junebug rested her head on Mary Katherine's lap and watched soap operas. Her favorites were The Guiding Light, Days Of Our Lives and As the World Turns. Mary Katherine laughed because Junebug called As the World Turns, "As The World Tumbles." Junebug said it every time and Mary Katherine laughed every time.

Off and on throughout her elementary school years, Junebug had many days with Mary Katherine. But it began to get sticky in Middle School when school became harder for Junebug to face and the more she stayed home with Mary Katherine, the less she wanted to go to school until one day after many hard mornings, she was put in a psychiatric hospital for two weeks. While it was not where she belonged, it felt like there was no other place where she fit. 


I remember when I would fly kites with my dad and he would wet his finger with his mouth and stick it in the air to determine which direction the wind was blowing. I felt lost losing my dad and throughout my life I have felt anxious not knowing which way the wind would blow me next. When I found an anchor like Mary Katherine, I did not know how or when to let go. While I felt like holding on for dear life kept me afloat, it was an illusion. I see now that my tendency to persist for too long actually left me drowning many times. 

A year later, I can see I have come far and life feels overwhelming in a different way than it did a year ago. While I know where I belong  much more than I did as a child, there is a way in which grief separates you for a period of time from the world. I think it is different for everyone but I know the consequence of running from it so I am trying to come to peace with feeling a little on the outside. I will wait out the choppy waters with the help of anchors who are there for me. If I keep treading the waters of my truth, eventually I hope to find I can float on my back on my own with the heavens in the sky above and the wonders of the ocean below.

 

Mary Katherine Davis in the photo who worked for my family and was part of our family until she died when I was in my mid 20's. Song is I Found You by Alabama Shakes.