The approach of Mother’s Day made me think of the many mothers and grandmothers I have known over the years, including Gracie Mae Kinchen, who came into my family’s life in the early 1960’s. She was recommended to me by a friend who had grown up on a plantation near Plaquemine, where Gracie Mae was born.
At that time, she was a slender young woman of boundless energy and a will to work. She had six children of her own, and added my five daughters to those she loved. My youngest daughter was four. All her sisters were in school at St. Joseph’s Academy, and since she was too young for kindergarten, she and Gracie spent a lot of time together.
One of my favorite memories is of Gracie and DeLaune walking from our home on Mouton Street to Webb Park on the other side of Claycut Road. Gracie held DeLaune’s hand with one hand, and carried a picnic basket in the other.
My daughters were brought up on the principle that privilege is balanced by responsibility, and so they had a chore chart, which was posted on the kitchen wall. Every Sunday they gathered and decided who would do which chores in the coming week, writing their names next to the appropriate chore on the chart. This freed me from having to nag, because if some chore that needed to be done hadn’t been, all I had to do was look at the chart and remind the daughter responsible for the chore to do it.
I told them that Gracie Mae worked for me, not them. If she could vacuum their rooms and mop the bathrooms they used without having to pick up even one thing on the floor, she would do that. If she had to pick anything up, she left it to them. Further, since they used the bathrooms, they had to keep the tubs, the sinks, and the commodes clean. They also made their beds every day except Friday, when Gracie Mae changed the bed linens.
The result of all this was that they not only loved Gracie Mae, but respected her as well. Gracie Mae had great faith in God. She was a strong woman, both physically and spiritually, and she lived her beliefs.
My first marriage ended, and I was the one who had to move out. When I married my second husband, Dick, some years later, Gracie Mae came to work with us, bringing with her her cooking skills–I have never forgotten her chicken fricassee, which is still the best I’ve ever tasted–and her housekeeping skills, but the peace and calm she brought with her was the greatest gift of all.
When Dick’s health began to fail, and we needed 24 hour help, Gracie Mae’s sisters took over, so I didn’t have to spend hours interviewing people, because I knew that, like Gracie Mae, they were competent, compassionate women.
Gracie Mae was with us when Dick died. He’d been in ICU in a coma for some time, and the prognosis wasn’t good. My daughter Aimee was teaching at Tulane, so she drove up to be with me. My second daughter, Pamela, and her husband Vic, had also come. Though family members are not usually able to be in ICU, the hospital made an exception, so we took turns so Dick would always have a family member with him.
The night he died, Aimee and I had been sitting with Dick for hours when Pamela and Vic arrived. Gracie Mae was also there. Aimee and I went home to rest. We’d barely got there when Vic called to say Dick had died, and that Gracie Mae had been holding his hand at the time.
I can think of no better guide into the next world than Gracie Mae, whose goodness manifested itself in every breath she drew, every thing she did. When she died, I remembered that I used to tell her that if I got to heaven, and she was there first, she would be so high above me I wouldn’t be able to see her toes.
I consider Gracie Mae, like my mother and grandmothers, to be one of the people who has taught me that talking the talk is easy, but that walking the walk isn’t. Thank God for these women, who taught me walk the walk.
I often told Gracie Mae that if I got to heaven, she would be so far above me I would hardly be able to see her toes.