You Watch What I Tell You

Excerpted from The Seventh Child: A Lucky Life by Freddie Mae Baxter, edited by Gloria Bley Miller, ©1999:

My mother was only forty-nine years old when she died. She wasn’t sick before she died– like you say somebody was sick a long time– unless she was hiding it. She wasn’t in bed where you had to take care of her. I don’t know the cause of her death. She pained like everybody else pained, you know, like, stomachache or headache or backache or whatever. But nobody did say why she passed. She just died suddenly.

Momma died at home. There were no hospitals in my town at that time; the closest one was in Charleston or Columbia. Everybody was in the house but Willie, the oldest, who was living with his wife and family. Henry was there, Maggie, Julius, and myself. Henry could see that she wasn’t responding and so he told me and Maggie to go over to Willie’s house and tell him to come over there. You had to walk but it wasn’t too far. (When you’re in the South, a mile is just a little walk; we walked everywhere.) Willie got there real fast.

That was one of the worst days of my life. I was sixteen and I was so scared. She died on the 3rd of January, 1940. I’ll never forget that date as long as I live. Every year, I mark that date on the calendar: so-and-so many years since Momma died. And every year that goes by, there’s another year. Nobody talks about my mother but me. Now if I bring it up, they’ll say some things that they remember about her but nobody don’t make the first move.

I just wish my mother could’ve lived to get older. I thought I would never get over it. Time helps but I still think about her and she’s been dead almost sixty years. One day, I’m gonna meet her. You watch what I tell you. I’m gonna meet my mother because I loved her.

What makes the autobiography of Freddie Mae Baxter interesting is that she wasn’t someone famous, not a politician or actress.  She was a housekeeper.

Gloria Miller met her, liked her, interviewed her, and helped her tell her story.


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