In 1965, I met Corrine. A tiny, soft-spoken African-American woman of indeterminate age, she cleaned my neighbor Betty’s home once a week. I was an overwhelmed young mother of three little boys, one who was just four months old.
One day Betty kindly suggested to us that perhaps Corrine could help me take care of the house once a week, just for a few months until I got settled into a routine.
Corrine walked to our house from the bus stop. Once she hung up her coat, she started in the kitchen, scrubbing the sink and counter tops. I remember one particular day when she began polishing a silver serving piece I had left on the table. I watched as she rubbed the silver polish between her hands and began polishing the pieces:
“You see, Missus, warming the polish in my hands and rubbing with only my fingers will make this bowl shine like no cloth could ever do. It’s the heat from my fingers.” Over the years when polishing my silver, I’ve used this technique and fondly thought of Corrine.
I cleaned out a closet one day and packed up the clothes so Corrine could bring them to her church to be distributed to those in need. Corrine noticed I had put a gray tweed car coat on the pile:
“Missus, let me see that coat.” She tried it on and being so tiny, it came down to her ankles. We laughed.
“Corrine, take that coat for yourself. It will keep you cozy and warm this winter.”
“Yes, it will,” she said with a big smile, as she hugged it to her body.
One morning, Betty took her kids and my two older boys to the church nursery school. When Corinne came to the house, my baby boy Matthew was sleeping soundly; I needed to go to the store and would be gone 45 minutes the most. Corrine told me to go ahead, she’d listen in case the baby woke up.
When I returned home, I brought the packages into the kitchen; I didn’t see Corrine, but I did hear soft humming coming from upstairs. I quietly went up and looked into the nursery: Corrine was sitting in the rocking chair, gently rocking my little boy and softly humming to him; Matthew was looking up at her and smiling. It is a picture I hold dear in my album of memories.
I needed to move the small, cheerful yellow writing desk out of the den to make room for the new desk we had ordered. I asked Corinne if she could use this desk; she was delighted, said now she’d have a place to sit and pay her bills. Between the two of us, we got it into the trunk of my car; Betty came over to watch the boys, and I drove Corrine and her new desk home.
When we pulled up to her house—a large multi-family home—there were several teenage boys out front. Corrine got out of the car as I opened the trunk:
“You boys get over here and get this desk out of the car and you bring it to my apartment.” She may have been tiny, but she “ruled the roost” and these boys listened and reacted fast.
“Don’t worry, Corrine, we’ll get it out for you,” they laughed.
“And don’t you scratch Missus’ car!”
I wondered how old Corrine was; had she ever been a nanny; was she ever married with children of her own—I never got answers. She was a gentle, sweet and religious woman who wasn’t afraid to show her plucky spirit. A mighty might was she!
Ruthann can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.