My grandmother, on my mother's side, lived in Olive Branch, Mississippi,
and when I was young, she had a live-in housekeeper; Mary Lewis was
“a colored woman”, in the language of the day, she used to dip snuff and she had a quilting table.
Once a week my mother and I would go to my grandmother's house to visit, sometimes my Aunt
Margaret was there too. They talked about places I'd never seen and people I didn't know.
I went and talked with Mary Lewis.
In Mary Lewis' room there was a painting on the wall, of Jesus, in flowing robes and sunbeams. His outstretched arms held JFK on one side, MLK, Jr. on the other. I watched as she cut dresses I'd outgrown into diamond-shaped
pieces, and we talked about that painting like I wasn't six years old.
There was a five-and-dime in Olive Branch, a drugstore, and down the street was Dr. Jones' office. At the door there was sign that said, COLORED WAITING ROOM, with an arrow pointing toward the back. My grandmother and everyone, including Mary Lewis, went to Dr. Jones; in a time, there was nowhere else to go.
My grandmother was strong, and she shared that with her daughters. My mother, Aunt Margaret and my grandmother, each strong in their own way and more than I have yet become.
But Mary Lewis was the only one who talked to me, at six, like I was grown.
And the only one, who might have been stronger.