Cassie came into my life in 1961. I was 8 years old with a brand new baby sister. She was hired as our sitter by my mom for $13.00 per week. She was a large black woman who claimed to be old, but in reality she never knew her exact birth date. My guess is she was only in her forties then. Every day she wore stockings rolled to her knees , starched floral dresses with an apron, her grey hair in braids in a bun on the back of her head. She enjoyed her snuff, but never let me see her dip it into her lip. She always smelled like the freshness of cotton clothes dried on a line outdoors.
The baby was her love, she loved rocking her in her ample lap and singing black spiritual songs to her. With me, she was a little more reserved. During the mornings, she worked hard around the house, ironing, sweeping, mopping and cleaning, timing her chores around the baby’s naps. At exactly 1:00 every day she put down the baby for her afternoon nap and sat down in my Dad’s easy chair to watch her “stories” which were really CBS soap operas. No one could convince her they weren’t real and weren’t really happening live. She used to yell out during the dramatic parts, “There is someone behind you” or” Now, you know you telling a lie”. When I was home all day during the summer, I tried to explain to her that the soaps weren’t real, but she didn’t want to hear it and never missed an episode.
She never hugged me or held me in her lap, but showed love for me in other ways. Living in the south in the early sixties was very different than today. “Colored” as she call herself, (Black hadn’t come into the southern vocabulary yet}, was who she was. She never ate our food. She brought her own lunch from home wrapped in a cotton cloth with a Pepsi to drink. I adored Pepsi, but my mother only bought a few each week and they went quickly. By Monday, we were drinking iced tea or water, though we lived over a grocery store. Money was tight, both my parents worked in local plants and there was little money for soft drinks. After Cassie’s first day drinking one with me looking longingly at it, she brought me one too, each and every day. We used to put the glass bottles in the freezer a few minutes before lunch so they would get little chunks of ice in the top of the bottles. Nothing has ever tasted better than that to me. We sat and drank our Pepsi in the den and watched television. My family always ate dinner at the table in the kitchen and it was quite unheard of to eat a meal anywhere else, but we were rebels, Cassie and I.
Once when I brought a friend home after school, I introduced her as the “maid”. It didn’t bother her to be called a maid, but the word didn’t feel right in my mouth nor in my heart. She was more of a grandmother to me and I loved her dearly, but unfortunately I never told her. In those days, I Love You’s weren’t thrown around like it is today and I just assumed she knew. When my sister grew up and went to school, Cassie moved on to another family. I was absorbed in adolescence and didn’t realize how much I would miss her.
Years later after marrying and having a daughter, it was time to find someone to watch her while I worked. Who in the world would I trust to watch my precious 6 week old daughter and care for her like I would? Cassie was enjoying her retirement, and for once in her life, not responsible for any children. I went to her house and showed her my beautiful daughter and told her I could trust no other. She rocked the baby for a minute and said, “Pick me up on Monday.”
Luckily, I worked close enough to be able to walk home for lunch. As I walked up on the porch, I could hear Cassie, singing to my baby and when I went in she had a Pepsi waiting .