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Household help 1940's to 1960's

In many families during World War II the wife and mother worked in manufacturing or textile plants, helping to make ends meet while the husband and father was stationed many miles away. Mama and daddy met when she was attending business school in Florence in the late 1930's. They married in 1941 and daddy enlisted in the Army Air Force soon afterwards. Instead of a factory, mama worked in Civil Service office positions wherever daddy was stationed, at Navy bases in Newport News, Virginia and Charleston, SC, and on the Air Force Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Daddy had trained as a glider pilot but contracted rheumatic fever that damaged his heart. Grounded from flying, he finished out the war working in aircraft maintenance.

After the war mama and daddy settled down in their home town of Florence. During my childhood they would occasionally discuss people they had met or events that had happened during those war years, but I seldom listened. Oh, how I wish I had paid more attention to those conversations!

Daddy went to work in insurance sales and small engine repairs. He especially enjoyed converting old Singer sewing machines from peddle to motorized, and at any one time our house might feature a sewing machine in every room. But daddy's heart condition gradually worsened and sometimes he simply wasn't able to work, so mama returned to secretarial work. There was no such thing as a daycare center in Florence in the 1940's so mama found dependable household helpers to come in on week days to look after us kids.

Gussie and Etta helped raise us, really. Our parents laid down the rules of our young lives, shopped for our clothes, took us to school and to see Dr. Price when we got sick. But after school and in the summer time, it was Gussie or Etta who kept an eagle eye on our comings and goings and told us "No, you can't have another cookie," or "You better get your chores done before your mama gets home."

I remember Gussie's cheerful voice and disposition, and the fact that she loved to listen to gospel music on the radio while she ironed daddy's shirts or cooked my favorite macaroni dish. She was normally full of musical laughter, but her lowered-brow glare could put an instant stop to childish misbehavior.

At some point Gussie retired and Etta came to help out our family. While Gussie was broad shouldered, substantial and outgoing, Etta was short, soft spoken and a little shy. Both were quite matter of fact when it came to the nonsense us kids could come up with. They knew what mama and daddy believed. Though they didn't dish out any punishments, they knew what was a reportable offense and what wasn't. We relied on them to settle our sibling disputes and to be there when we came in for a snack or a band aid on a skinned knee. Etta remained part of our family household for many years, even after my brother and I were able to look after ourselves.

By the early 1960's several daycare centers had opened up. When I went back to work after my first child, I found a convenient center nearby. My daughter Shelby arrived several years later and I planned to use daycare again, but as a thoughtful gift my mother hired a delightful young woman with a charming low-country accent to come in during week days and look after my two small children.

Our delightful household helper was friendly, outgoing, and loved to talk. By then my son had been talking for some time, and my daughter began to talk right on schedule. But to our dismay, we soon realized Shelby was speaking mostly Gullah -- a beautiful language, just not English. With much reluctance, we gave the young lady several week's notice and turned again to daycare. Shelby soon began to chatter away in ordinary American speech with all the other toddlers.

Several years later our family moved to the outskirts of town where there were no nearby child care centers. The children were too young to stay home alone and I needed an after-school solution. Etta came to my rescue. She was retired but yes, she said, she'd be glad to help out for a while. She came every week day to be at the house when the school bus arrived, giving my children the same loving care she'd given my brother and me so many years before. I will always be grateful for her, and for all the wonderful household helpers who were such a large part of my family over the years.

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