Our two families intertwined day in and day out like the big wisteria that grew amidst the huge limbs of our pecan tree out front. From a distance it was hard to tell which limb belonged to which plant. Mama babysat the three youngest children while their mama worked at the factory next door. Mrs. Miller dropped them off in the mornings—no matter the weather. Rain, sunshine, cold or heat, they came in the morning and left at 4:30 in the afternoon—unless Mrs. Miller had to work overtime. Mama and Lillian Miller were two strong women working hard to raise their families, cooking and cleaning and hiring out their services to other people. Mama washed and ironed other people’s clothing, running them through the vicious jaws of her wringer type machine at 4 a.m. Mrs. Miller worked in the manufacturing of clothes. Long before the Miller children arrived to spend the day under Mama’s care, long-sleeved white shirts were already flapping on our clothes line. She had to get the washing out early so she’d be ready when the children arrived.
As the Miller family grew, so did ours. When Sharon, the knee baby of the family, was born, I took over her care when I came home from school. She fascinated me. She waited patiently for me to arrive and rescue her from the playpen or the baby bed. She’d stand with arms outstretched, a big smile on her little pixie face, and a brand new name for me. Mary Ann was too much for her language skills, so she called me Mae. To many of my family members, I’m still Mae to this day.
When baby Dan was born, he, too, joined our family. The older siblings took care of themselves after school, but the younger ones stayed with us until their mama collected them at the end of her work day. On occasion when Mrs. Miller was sick, the children spent the night. They were part of our holidays and part of the fabric of our daily life. We came to love them as family.
And then, as it always does, time intervened. The children grew up and started to school, left home, married. Mama and Mrs. Miller continued to work. They saw each other sometimes, but not daily anymore. Paths diverged.
In 1990, my mother died of a massive heart attack. Daddy said she worked herself to death, but she was happiest when she was working. She’d never been the type to sit and watch television for hours on end. When her health failed, she wasn’t able to do much else. But she wasn’t really happy. Sometimes children she’d babysat would stop by to visit, and those visits brought smiles to her face. Those had been the good old days, no matter how hard they were.
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