The white lady sticks her hand out to me and I study her. She might be built like Marilyn, but she ain’t ready for no screen test. She’s got flour in her yellow hairdo, Flour in her glow-on eyelashes. And flour all over that tacky pantsuit. Her standing in a cloud of dust and that pantsuit being so tight, I wonder how she can breathe.
This is Minny Jackson’s first impression of Celia Foote, the woman who would be her new employer. Minny’s thinking this silently of course, but as the chapter progresses, she can’t help but use that sharp tongue she was blessed with. Celia lives in a huge mansion outside of town, surrounded by woods. Celia offers Minny her hand, but instead of shaking it, Minny thinks I smooth down my white uniform instead of taking her hand. I don’t want that mess (flour) on me.
Celia shows Minny into the kitchen, and as Minny surveys the damage Celia and her flour have done in an attempt to cook, Minny searches for a sponge to help clean up.
After briefly listening to Celia’s whispery voice (possibly to imitate Marilyn Monroe) Minny decides
I can tell right off, she’s way out in the country. I look down and see the fool doesn’t have any shoes on, like some kind of white trash. Nice white ladies don’t go around barefoot.
But through Minny’s eyes, Celia appears to be twenty-two or twenty three, and once again, the word “pretty” is a applied to a white character (the black female characters aren’t afforded this label)
As Celia shows Minny around the mansion, Minny notes Even though there are that there are yellow bedrooms for girls, and a blue one and a green on for boys, it’s clear there aren’t any children living here. Just dust. (Pg 33)
And then she opens her mouth to say “When you gone have you some chilluns, start filling up all these beds?”
Wait, wasn’t Minny just THINKING in near perfect English?
“Why you think I drove all the way out here to kingdom come, just to burn gas?” I clamp my mouth shut. Don’t go ruirning (the book spelling) this now, she offering you a jay-o-bee. “Miss Celia, I be happy to work for you.
And this is where I closed the book my first time reading it, and didn’t finish it until weeks later. Because if Minny had mouthed off like that in the real south, she would have been slapped and told to get off the property. The character reads like a bad sit-com version, complete with snappy comebacks.
After Minny and Celia have a cute mix-up on whether Minny will take the job (Celia thinks the mansion is too big for one person to clean, and that Minny will refuse to work there like the five others she’s interviewed. While Minny thinks Celia knows all about Hilly’s lie, that the reason she left Miss Walters employ was because she stole some silverware, and not that Miss Walters is being committed to a nursing home.
Once its all sorted out, Celia drops this bomb. Her husband must never know she’s hired a maid.
And cue Minny for more hilarious jokes:
“And what Mister Johnny gone do if he come home and find a colored woman up in his house?”
“I’m sorry, I just can’t-”
“I’ll tell you what he’ gone do, he’s gone get that pistol and shoot Minny dead right here on this no-wax floor.”
Miss Celia shakes her head. “I’m not telling him.”
“Then I got to go,” I say, Shit. I knew it. I knew she was crazy when I walked in the door–
“It’s not that I’d be fibbing to him. I just need a maid-“
“Of course you need a maid. Last one done got shot in the head.”
This exchange goes on before Celia reveals that she wants her husband to think she’s doing all the cleaning and cooking, that she’s “worth the trouble.”
After more haggling, Minny decides to take the job, especially when Celia offers to pay her two dollars an hour. So she’ll arrive two hours after Mister Johnny leaves for his real estate office, and two hours before he’s scheduled to come home (five o’clock)
Next, the chapter goes into Minny’s background, or specifically, her mother’s “ rules for working in a White Lady’s house.”
This “talk” occurs on Minny’s fourteenth birthday.
I was fourteen years old to the day. I sat at the little wooden table in my mama’s kitchen eyeing that caramel cake on the cooling rack, waiting to be iced. Birthdays were the only day of the year I was allowed to eat as much as I wanted (Pg 38)
She goes on to recall why she quit school, only finishing the eighth grade. Mama wanted me to stay on and go to the ninth grade-she’d always wanted to be a schoolteacher instead of working in Miss Woodra’s house. But with my sister’s heart problem and my no-good drunk daddy, it was up to me and Mama. I already knew housework. After school, I did most of the cooking and the cleaning.
The rules were:
Rule number one: “White people are not your friends. You keep you nose out of your white Lady’s problems, you don’t go crying to her with yours…”
Rule number two: “Don’t you ever let that White Lady find you sitting on her toilet.”
Rule number three: “When you’re cooking white people’s food, you taste it with a different spoon.”
Rule Four: “You use the same cup, the same fork, same plate everyday. Keep it in a separate cupboard”
Rule five: “You eat in the kitchen”
Rule six: “You don’t hit her children. White people like to do their own spanking
Rule seven: “No sass-mouthing”
And when Minny lands her first job, this is how it goes:
First day at my White Lady’s house, I ate my ham sandwich in the kitchen, put my plate up in my spot in the cupboard. When that little drat sotle my pocketbook and hid it in the oven, I didn’t whoop her on the behind.
But when the White Lady said: “Now, I want you to be sure and handwash all the clothes first, then put them in the electric machine to finish up,”
I said: Why I got to handwash when the power washer gone do the job? That’s the biggest waste a time I ever heard of.”
That White Lady smile at me, and five minutes later, I was out on the street. (Pg 39-40)
To be continued…