A Lesson in Deep South Manners
I don’t even remember her name. Her mother, Mrs. Jeaudon (called by her first name), was the cook and household helper for Dr. and Mrs. Turner. Mr. Jeaudon (called by his first name) took care of the yard work around their house.
Dr. Turner was a physician, retired but still practicing medicine. ‘Auntie Turner’ had once been his nurse. They used to own and live in the big house. Then they gave it to the mission organization with which my parents worked.
When the Turners moved out of the big house, they moved into what was once the live-in servants’ quarters. A simple frame two-story structure that sat right behind the big house. The top floor had an outside stairway from the first-floor open-air porch to the second-floor open-air porch. No one lived up there anymore.
Before the Turners moved in, they added a small bedroom and an indoor toilet to the ground floor. A small kitchen, a small dining room, and a small parlor ran the length of the veranda.
One day Mrs. Jeaudon brought one of her daughters to work. I met her, and we went off to play in the yard. She came several times. When my Sisters #2 and #3 played with us it was even better. That meant enough to run races, play dodge ball, hide and seek or Simon-says.
One day we decided to play in the front yard. It faced the river and merged into the neighbor’s front yard which merged into the next neighbor’s front yard and beyond. All the back yards (where the driveways and garages were) had fences. Most front yards didn’t.
The front yards were beautiful. The river, marsh grass and docks were right there next to us. Our next-door neighbors were often at their other house. They told us we could play in their front yard any time we wanted to. So we did. They were very friendly.
We didn’t dare go beyond their yard, though, because the man in the next big house was mean. He shot Bambi one night with his rifle and Bambi died. Bambi was our new puppy. Sometimes Bambi barked little puppy barks. Mr. S didn’t like barking dogs, even though his great big guard dog barked and even snarled. Mr. S also gave rowdy loud drinking parties on his dock. We stayed away from Mr. S.
But we didn’t stay away from the huge water oak in our neighbor’s yard. We also had one in our yard. The two oaks became our start and finish lines for all kinds of races and made-up games.
One morning our new friend and we three sisters had fun racing back and forth between the oaks and then seeing who could twirl around the longest before collapsing on the ground.
The next day Mother quietly told us we weren’t to play with our new friend anymore. In fact, she wasn’t coming back at all. Mother looked uncomfortable.
I could tell she wasn’t giving us the full story. She said something like ‘It will be better for all of you if you don’t play together anymore.’ Furthermore, we were to say nothing to anyone else about this and ask no questions. Just do as we’re told.
I still don’t know the full truth. It was clearly about skin color. Our friend was colored; we were white.
I don’t think Mother would have come up with that by herself. I also don’t think our mean neighbor said anything. But the fact that he was unpredictable, white and rowdy with lots of money probably enters in.
And then there was Auntie Turner. She was never shy about telling us (especially Mother) how things are and how they must remain. Especially when it came to the way Mother took care of the big house and our manners.
This was my low-key, ice-cold introduction to the social politics of race in the Deep South. My first lesson in Deep South manners and morals. Always ‘for my own good.’
No mixing of coloreds with whites.
Don’t tell the full truth.
Keep your mouth shut.
Don’t ask questions.
Just do as you’re told.
It’s dangerous if you don’t.
You can’t be too careful.
I wonder what Auntie Turner told Mrs. Jeaudon. And what Mrs. Jeaudon told her daughter. I wish I knew.
© Elouise Renich Fraser, 18 February 2015