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Tilda Green

"Sometimes things are not what we think."

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It is surprising how much changes in a lifetime. Cars, airplanes, refrigerators, telephones, electric stoves, big highways all over the country. All sorts.

And people. Gosh, what changes. For instance, there was a little baby girl born in Tennessee and named Annie. Now, the parents of Annie’s daddy said they didn’t want that baby girl to go with her mother when she went to Washington, D.C. to find a job. Her daddy was in the War in the Army. She knew the little girl’s mother wouldn’t know anyone and who was going to look after the baby Annie when she was at work?

So the little baby girl was left with her Granny and Pappap for two years until the war was over. 

Granny and Pappap lived in a very poor three-room house that they rented. It didn’t have any running water and no electricity except for light bulbs. No plumbing meant they had an outhouse back in the yard behind the garage. It was too dark for Annie to go by herself at night even with a flashlight. So they had “chamber pots” made of metal with a lid that was kept under the edge of the bed for night use.

Granny cooked on a big old wood stove in the first room that was the kitchen. There was a front porch where the bench was for the bucket. It was kind of like a “shotgun” house. You could come in the front door off that porch and see-through every door to the last room.

Oh, thinking about washing clothes. There was a big black iron cauldron that sat in a three-legged holder on the ground. They lit a fire under it and after putting lots of buckets of water in they got it hot enough to put the clothes in. Had a washboard, lye soap, and Granny used those to scrub the clothes and sheets. She had to bend over to work very hard to get them clean. A bunch of buckets of cold water sat by. 

She had a thing that looked like two rollers screwed onto a barrel that they took the soapy clothes and ran through while turning the rollers. It really squeezed the water out of the clothes. Then they were rinsed in cold freshwater and run through it again. Granny hung the clothes on a line outside. 

Not that they had a lot of clothes. They wore the same ones day after day. Granny wore an apron over her dress and changed that pretty much. Annie didn't think about it much, but Granny probably didn’t have even five dresses. And one was black for church and funerals. 

The second or middle room had a smaller potbellied wood stove for the winter. And it had three beds. One was a big bed for two people and Granny slept in that. One was a smaller bed for one person and Pappap slept in that. The third bed was for Annie when she came down years later in the summer with her parents to visit. And the room had two rocking chairs and two wood slat back chairs and a treadle sewing machine. Oh, and it had a radio that you could listen to good stories and music. 

There was a door from this room to the side porch. And a little storage room off that porch with a door that scraped on the wood floor. It had a big iron hasp that you used to pull the door closed. No doorknob. A piece of wood nailed to the side of the door you could turn to hold the door closed. 

That little porch was the one everyone used. Because the middle room was like the main room. And it didn’t get hot sun on it like the front porch. 

The third room was the last room and it had a big bed with a very tall headboard on it. That was the room of Granny’s mother. When Great-Grandmother’s husband died she brought their wedding bed with her to live with Granny and Pappap. When she died it was available for Annie’s parents. It had a door to the outside. 

The house was very cold in the winter and very hot in the summer. You could see the ground between the wall and the floor because the cracks were so big. They weren’t huge but you could see if the light was right.

There was a nice black lady named Tilda that lived up the road from her grandparents. She worked for some people cleaning their house and would come by the grandparents going to and from work and ask if she could see the baby. And that little baby would reach out for Tilda to take her and just be so happy. Now Tilda never knocked on the door. She would come in the yard and just wait for Granny or Pappap to notice she was there.

Back then nobody knocked on no door. They would holler out to let the people in the house know they had come by. But Tilda never hollered. She just waited patiently.

Even though Granny said they were friends Tilda would never go into Granny’s house. If Granny wanted to give her something to eat she had to bring a plate out on the porch for Tilda to sit there and eat.

This is what was so strange the little girl thought much later. Tilda didn’t think it was her place to go into a white person’s house if she wasn’t working there. Isn’t that crazy? 

See, Tilda’s daddy had been a slave. So things were so different. Tilda had lots of brothers and sisters but they were all over the United States, most up north in Chicago and places like that.

So Tilda was by herself in the old family home and working for the people that had owned her daddy. They had taken the last name of Green from those people. So she was Tilda Green.

After the war ended, Annie’s parents had taken her to Washington, D.C. where there were lots of jobs and that is where they lived. Every summer they drove down to Tennessee and stayed a week with Granny and Pappap and then drove to Annie’s mother’s house for another week.

When she got married Annie brought her husband to visit her kinfolks in Tenneessee, While there she told her husband to come with her and they would go down to Tilda’s house and the two could meet.  

Knocking on the door Tilda answered and looked startled and confused. Annie said they wanted to introduce Tilda to her husband. After looking very uncomfortable she invited them into the house. 

That house was astonishing. Velvet chairs and carpets and family photos on all the walls. There was a walkway of newspapers on top of the rugs leading from the front door through the house to the kitchen.  

It was a house more wonderful than anything Annie’s grandparents could have imagined. Sitting down with some ice water they learned that one of Tilda's brothers was a professor in Chicago. Another one was something equally impressive. And on and on. It seemed Tilda was the only one that hadn’t had higher education. At least not that she said. She had just stayed at the home place.  

She also told them about when her siblings were all children they played musical instruments and sang every Friday night on their front porch. “All the white folks would come in their buggies and wagons and sit and listen." She clearly took such pride in that memory.

Annie herself took pride in remembering one little thing. When she and her husband got married they sent an invitation to the wedding to Tilda. It was in Washington, so Tilda never came. But she sent a gift of a set of pretty bathroom towels. One large bath towel, one smaller hand towel, and one washcloth. All made of expensive lovely materials. Annie finally understood as she looked at all of the lovely things on display in Tilda's home. That set of towels was for display only in their own home.


Written by elizabethblack
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