Living With And Without Revered Maid

Wonders of America

By Jenna Weissman Joselit

Published November 11, 2011, issue of November 18, 2011.
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I hadn’t thought about Gladys for years, and suddenly she was in my dreams. Why now? True, one of my students was writing a paper about the riots in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights, prompting my own thoughts on the relationship between race and class in modern America.

Could that have been the trigger? Might the recent release of the film “The Help,” have also set things in motion? Or was Gladys’s reappearance merely a function of my childhood memories of Sukkot as the festival made its annual rounds? Ver veyst?

Still, I was sufficiently intrigued to pester my siblings for more details, but they only confirmed what I already knew. They, like me, could not figure out why our mother, no great liberal, relaxed the prevailing racial etiquette of her day by having Gladys call her by her first name. Nor were they able to account for what happened to Gladys after most of the family left for Israel. Putting our heads together, we came up with very little.

In lieu of a happy ending, then, there’s a big, hulking gap. I, for one, keenly regret not learning more about Gladys. I never thought to ask.


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