Jack TenneyExtra Point

by Jack Tenney, Publisher

October 2011

Okay, so I cried at a movie.

I’m not sure what I expected the movie The Help to be about but my wife was happy I agreed to go. She wanted to see it but feared I would think it was a chick-flick.

At some point during the movie, I began to feel this enormous guilt.

I can’t really remember my mammy, Lulu, but I never doubted what my parents told me about her and I was very comfortable with the stories my mother told.

In 1962, the year the movie is set in, when I visited family friends Rita and Dick Wheeler at their home in Baton Rouge, I connected with a past I had heard about but didn’t really remember. 

The Wheelers had remained my parents’ best friends from the time they were neighbors in Shreveport, La. My middle name is Richard after our former neighbor. 

Lulu worked for my parents; Clara Bashful and her husband, Hosea, worked for the Wheelers. I was the baby in our family and have been told for years that Lulu loved my curly blond hair.

She got in big trouble because of an incident concerning the inappropriate use of my father’s golf shoes. Lulu was, in my mother’s words, “a big gal,” and, as was the custom of the day, old clothes were given to the colored help.

One day, Lulu wore my father’s cleats as she washed the kitchen floor. I’m not sure how much trouble she really got for that, but it’s a shame there were no soft spikes back in the day.

Anyway, more than two decades later, Clara and Hosea still worked for Rita and Dick. When I visited them, Hosea was summoned to unpack my bag.

Dick boomed, “Hosey, you know who this is? This is John Richard. You packed and unpacked for his brother when he came to visit, remember? (My brother no doubt visited when he was stationed in Shreveport 10 years earlier.) 

No kidding, Hosea replied, “Yassir, Mr. Wheeler, I sure do.” 

Picture yourself as a recent college grad taking a weekend break from your first long business trip. What would your bag’s contents look like? Would you want anyone sorting out the clean from soiled, making sure socks were matched, underwear washed, dress shirts ironed?

You’d think both Hosea and I would have been mortified. Not Hosea, he went at it like he was gutting a catfish — no real joy but no complaints. It was just a job.

I was finally ashamed that I just let that happen and so I cried in a movie.