Dec 12

Rodee was like a second mother to me as she was our housekeeper and my closest companion for the first nine years of my life. She was my best friend and I think that I was closer to her than to my own mother when I was little.  She started working for my family shortly before I was born.

Somewhere I have a picture of me in the highchair with Rodee feeding me. We spent many hours together, as my mother left her to take care of me while she did her various volunteer projects. When I was really small and had to take an afternoon nap, Rodee would hold, rock and sing to me and when I was a bit older, she read me stories until I fell asleep.  Rodee treated me like I was her own little girl.

I do not know what happened to Rodee’s husband, but I do know that she was a single mom, with five daughters!  On occasion, her daughters would babysit my siblings and I (there were) 4 of us when our parents when out on a school night.  They always came in twos as none of them liked to be alone with just us in our big house.  They were all really nice girls. The youngest was just a year or so younger than me while the others were around the same ages as my older siblings, and after being a single mom myself, I admire Rodee even more.

Besides taking care of me, Rodee cooked and cleaned which was quite a job as we lived in a very large two story house with five bedrooms. I am not sure how she did it all as I think that she even made our beds every morning.  She did come every day after she got her girls to school so she was there from about 9am-5pm, a long day to then go home and take care of her own children!

She washed clothes for the six of us, and hung them out to dry on the clothes line as we did not have a dryer at that time.  She picked up after me and helped me to keep my room clean.

Of the “jobs” she did at our house, my favorite was “cook”!

I loved Rodee’s cooking, especially her Fried Chicken and apricot fried pies!  I always wanted her to make fried chicken as it was my favorite food when I was growing up!  When I was older and we reconnected, she came to my home in Houston to meet with my sister and me.  She showed us how she made her fried chicken, just with flour!  I could not believe how good it was with just flour!  I had been trying to imitate her chicken by using flour with milk and egg dip, quite messy!  I believe it tasted so good because she put “love” into it.  She knew how much we loved it and I think she enjoyed making us our favorite food!

Sometimes my mother had Rodee come cook for us on a Sunday for lunch after church.  Frankly, I loved it when she worked on Sunday, because then I didn’t have to go to church and sit there and be still, and quiet. I got to go home and “help” Rodee. Occasionally, I would get to make my special salad, a half a pear with a dollop of mayo with grated cheese on top,  it was a recipe from my Betty Crocker Jr. cookbook that I bought one day at Jarrott’s, the pharmacy that had everything!   Sunday lunch at home was a special day. We ate in the dining room, used the good china, crystal and the silver. We were dressed in our good Sunday clothes and we used our best manners.  The dining room table was a training ground for manners and etiquette.   I loved eating in the dining room!  Under the dining room table, was a buzzer that rang in the kitchen that alerted whoever was in the kitchen that we needed something in the diningroom.  I loved it when Daddy would step on the button on the floor and the “buzz” would sound.   Besides making us a fabulous meal, Rodee was there to serve, remove and wash the dishes and clean up.  I imagine that she was missing going to her own church and being with her five daughters.”

Rodee and I had many special moments. I remember when she was cleaning out the freezer, and I was looking at all the different things sitting out on the counter. There was a juice can that had ice around the top. For some reason I decided that it would be something like a snow cone, so I put my mouth on it. When I pulled my mouth away, I ripped the skin off the inside of my mouth. I remember how bad it hurt, and how Rodee picked me up, hugged and rocked me until I quit crying, and told me I would be okay, and I was.

There was another time, when my friend Bill came over to play while our mothers went somewhere together and left Rodee in charge of the two of us.  We were bored and looking for something to do as this was back before television was popular.  Somehow we came upon two big boxes of stick matches which we thought were really intriguing.   As customary, we wanted to be outside playing so we decided to take the matches and strike them while walking around the backyard, and dropping them as they burned out.

My parents had just put in a new driveway, and the asphalt was still kind of soft.  On the other side of the driveway, there was a compost pile. I don’t know if it was Bill’s match, or my match, but one of us threw a match on the ground and the compost pile caught on fire. We went running in the house to tell Rodee.

She was surprised to hear that the backyard was on fire, but she grabbed the broom, and after she called the fire department, she ran outside and started beating the fire with the broom. Rodee got the fire out, about the time the fire truck pulled into the driveway. Rodee had also called our mothers, who pulled up shortly thereafter. The firemen, after making certain that everything was ok, and the fire was out, got back in their truck to back out. Since the driveway was new and soft, and the firetruck very big and heavy, they were stuck. They tried, and they tried to get out, but they couldn’t. They had to call a wrecker service to come and pull the fire truck out.

Bill and I had been in trouble just for playing with the matches, but now, this added to our trouble. “Look what you’ve done!” my mother shouted. Anyway, Rodee stuck up for us. She didn’t really get too upset with us, even though we had been mischievous on her watch. She understood that we were just kids out doing something we shouldn’t have been doing, but we weren’t bad kids. We had just acted badly!

Jack Tar Motel

Lobby at the Jack Tar Motel

Rodee was treated like a member of the family, kinda.  Every summer in August, my family went to Galveston to the beach, about the time of my birthday and Rodee went with us!   We’d stay at the Jack Tar motel, THE place to stay at that time in Galveston. Our family had a “suite” or apartment type room and Rodee had a place somewhere in the back of the motel, which I never saw, but she did have her own place away from us but still in the motel complex.  At night, our parents always went out, so Rodee was there to look after us, the four children. This was obviously “the thing” because my best friend in college, Jane, did the same trip with her family in the summer, going to Galveston to the Jack Tar and taking her caregiver, Carrie Brown. Galveston was very popular in the ’50s, probably because there was gambling. Besides sitting with us at night, Rodee would sometimes watch me when I was in the pool or go with us to the beach.

The pool at the Jack Tar Motel

Pool where I loved to swim!

The Jack Tar in Galveston was the place to go, and to take your maid to be your babysitter at night. Rodee again, was away from her children, her daughters for a week, two weeks. I had a great time. I was glad she was there, but now I look back on it, and I think how difficult that must have been as a single mom. Who watched her kids? I was glad she was there. We spent every birthday together until I was seven.

Rodee's Handkerchief Then in 1957, around the time of my birthday, my family took a “road trip” and did not go to Galveston. We were actually in California on my birthday. Even though I was having fun, I missed Rodee and Galveston.  I remember receiving a card in the mail from Rodee, for my birthday. In the card was a handkerchief, a flowered handkerchief, that I still have to this day.   I was touched, even at the age of seven that Rodee would send me something for my birthday.  I will say a handkerchief would not have been my choice, but I cherish it today, and hey, it was easy to mail!

Rodee would save me from getting in trouble, correcting me before I drew the attention of my mother.  She also shielded me from my brother who would pick on me, she would interrupt arguments between us, she was my protector.  She was like a member of the family!  I was deeply attached to Rodee, my surrogate mother.

About the Author

Mary Rabe is the Founder and Director of Women Healing the World -- a creative community of women who want to make a difference for other women in our communities.

Leave a Comment:

(2) comments

Debbie Fry June 9, 2018

Mary Sue, your writing has a way of “bringing it all back to life”. I really enjoyed hearing about life in The South at the same time i was growing up in The Midwest/North – some distinct differences ,bit many commonalities of experience.

Lee Davison September 3, 2018

A good insight into how household help was considered family and how special she was in your life. I can’t imagine Rodee’s feelings of leaving her own children while caring for someone else’s children. She never let her feelings show I’ll bet.
Great story to bring that side of Southern living to light

Add Your Reply

Leave a Comment: