Thoughts on The Maid

We watched “The Help” about a week ago. Five minutes in I was already defensive and pausing the show to express my concerns of how the people were portrayed.

It wasn’t until about the third stall that I realized a big part of why it bugged me.

I had a maid when I was young – well more or less. We called her a house-girl. She worked six days a week. She cooked, cleaned and watched us kids. She regularly stayed the night and even took us on outings sometimes.

We had a yard-boy, too, and even a sew-girl who came regularly to make custom clothing for us.

However, before you start envisioning a three figure weekly allowance and luxury swimming pool, let me explain.

My parents were in the Air Force. From age five to age ten we lived in the Philippine Islands. House-girls and such were standard at Clark AFB, Luzon.

At first it was vital and probably a God-send for my family. Long story, but my Mother spent the first two years there as a single, working mother of two to three children while my Father was on a totally different continent.

As soon as a new family turned up on base the neighboring house-girls and yard-boys would eagerly recommend their family members and friends. Even more than the assumed need of the family, there was the desperate want or need of the Filipino.

One of the house-girls we had, her sister, me and my brother. Note, I'm the one with the pink hair.

If you didn’t hire, prepare to be ostracized, at least by the Filipinos. (not to mention a continual flow of hopeful applicants) Frankly, from what I’ve seen their point of view is basically that Americans are rich – all Americans. So, coming to their country with such wealth if you don’t hire somebody it’s presumed that you are just greedy – hording your wealth. I won’t claim that all of them felt that way, but it did seem to be a common enough sentiment.

I can’t blame them.

As a child, I didn’t understand any of the controversies. I loved them. As far as I recall all those that worked for us were treated well – certainly not any of the atrocities that were shown in The Help. As I said, in the beginning my Mother was on her own and desperately needed the help.

Now, I certainly wouldn’t envy their job or pay. Even as a young child, I knew it was tough. I remember a night where my older brother made our house-girl cry and me trying to make it better. Now as a parent, I know all the more how hard the job is.

I don’t know what they were paid, but I doubt it was much compared to a job in America, but yet in the Philippines it was deemed a coveted position – as shown by the eagerness to secure it.

I guess I could say this is part of my oddball backgrounds. At least for those five years I lived a rather different childhood than my American peers. I should also note that I have never actually spent any significant time in the “South”. So having this background while watching The Help I got defensive about how the employers were shown at first. I was concerned about the stereotyping and generalizing, even though my Husband vouched for its authenticity – having lived in the South for a while.

However, the movie came through, even for me. They had several more compassionate women that were trapped in varying degrees by the society and they even had one woman that I could relate to that I did not expect to.

It was the blond, social outcast who had somehow missed out on Domestic Training 101 entirely. Like so many of the current rising generation, she wasn’t trained to manage a household and was totally overwhelmed. Unlike other women in the show, she was anxious to learn. She wanted a maid not to slave away for her, but as a friend and a mentor. She was eager for acceptance in the society of her peers but couldn’t grasp the entrenched intricacies and personal disputes that she kept blundering through.

It seems the nature of some to seek a way out of the daily grind – the menial duties. When one reaches the point in which one does not have to tend to such, most would rather not do them. We would rather turn our aspirations to “nobler causes”. However, then as some of the women of the show, we still crave a sense of significance, of influence. They looked for causes – such as the bridge game gathering, the toilet sanitation campaign and raising money for the starving children in Africa.

Sure, there is value to such, but meanwhile the children suffered from estrangement from their real mothers and even neglect.  With the passing of generations, the basic skills are lost by the higher class and they slowly find themselves utterly dependent on the staff or lower class. Even so, too often they take the workers for granted.

Meanwhile, for mere survival, the lower class constantly works hard and develop the vital skills like thrift and resourcefulness. Then, inevitably when the oppressions of the society either pass or become intolerable and broken down, it’s the common worker who with the skills for success. Those that habitually work hard naturally excel and improve themselves.

The wealthy who have become dependent however tend to find themselves in bondage – to their pride or even the former servant, such as with the woman so furious to fire the maid but yet the next day willing to take her back only to find herself punished by a pie. That pie could be said to be her ultimate undoing and the bane of her reality.

Perhaps there is far more truth than we realize to Christ’s advice in Luke 22:

 24 ¶And there was also a astrife among them, which of them should be accounted the bgreatest.

25 And he said unto them, The akings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors.

26 But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth aserve.

27 For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? is not he that sitteth at meat? but I am among you as he that aserveth.

I do not aspire to a hard life or one of poverty, but I hope I never underestimate the value of the lessons taught by hard work. I also pray I never forget the priceless value and power of those that work hard and serve others.

About Ren Black

Part-time novelist. Weekend artist. Full-time Mother. Ex-poet. Perfectionist by training. Compulsive researcher sporadically. Prone to fits of linguistic commentary Unorthodox Renegade occasionally. Sarcastic by habit... Dreamer Always... Consider Yourself Warned

8 comments on “Thoughts on The Maid

  1. Ren,

    I visited Clark AFB for several school events while attending Faith Academy. I don’t know which years you were there, but it’s possible if you were there between 1988 and 1992, that our paths crossed! 😀

    We also had house-help while we lived overseas. We could not have survived half as well without them! In the jungle, just about everything had to be done by hand. We had no washing machine or dryer, no supermarket handy to sell us already butchered meat or frozen veggies or ice cream.

    Mom cured hams and salami, made her own yogurt, pizza, and donuts (these were a special treat). We had to butcher our own meat and grind our own hamburger. We were thrilled to have large zinc washtubs and an electric mangle for the clothes, but it took several people hours to do all the clothes washing and hanging out to dry, and meanwhile, water also had to be heated to do all of the dishes for us and and the help too, also by hand.

    Mom was busy in the middle of all this, helping with the laundry, supervising the cooking and cleaning of our home, and talking on the radio; scheduling and keeping track of MAF medical flights for the hospital, and veggie, package, and passenger flights for everyone else on the station.

    My brother and I weren’t allowed to loaf around either! We helped daily with cleaning and washing up, and Mom assigned me the bathroom! We also helped outside with the yard work.

    And we got in so MUCH more trouble if we were ever naughty to or around our house-help! I only remember a small handful of occasions where we tested these limits and were disciplined for it–

    I was also best friends with our long-term house-helps’ only daughter. We had a lot of adventures together; canoeing, hiking, swimming, hunting for orchids, and fishing.

    Our house help seemed to like the money they were paid, and the opportunity of working for us and learning Western house-keeping skills was also a reasonable exchange for their effort. Some of our helpers moved on to take nurse’s training or become pastors and evangelists.

    I have also lived in South Carolina, and can attest to the discrimination that goes on there. The way servants and those considered to be “inferior” are treated in the South is not at all how we treated our house-help growing up.

    • Wow, yeah I was actually. I was there from ’85 to ’90.

      I loved the experiences I had there. My house girl would bribe me with visiting her house if I was good. We go and see the chickens and banana trees and as a child I didn’t really understand poverty. I loved the people, the culture. Loved the way they cut pineapple in a spiral cut and how when you bought a soda in the market they would pour it into a bag for you to drink from so that they could recycle or reuse the bottle.

      I know it’s not feasible for my family, but part of me would love to take my kids to live overseas for a while so that they can a world outside of the American box – to help them love a people and culture different from their own. A glimpse into how most people of the world live and how a simple or poor life doesn’t equate to life without cable or even without a tv… but yet there is joy there and love.

      Did you get to see places like Subic, Grande Island, 100 Islands, and Baguio? Where you were, did you get hit much by the earthquake in ’90 or so? I was there for that but we happened to leave right before the volcano…

      • Hey! That’s my husband in that pic :). We would love to go back and live there for a while too (although many family members and friends think it’s a ridiculous idea!). I don’t know how long I could manage it, but we’re constantly reminding the kids about their time there, and how different it was. We may have to be content with a few visits…

      • I know that my Mom had mixed feelings about the Philippines, but I fondly remember the place and would love to visit. For us though, not much chance. I was thrilled for your Husband though, that he got to serve there. I thought that was pretty cool.

        Thanks for reading, and sharing, Annie.

  2. I went to Baguio for a church retreat once. I loved the Philippines, tho I hated that no matter how hard the people worked in that land of vast resources (and they did work hard) nobody could get ahead unless they were already the upper class.
    I think it may have been a tick that bit me there that injected me with something that nearly destroyed my kidneys. I spent several weeks in the regional hospital at Clark AFB with glomerular nephritis while my poor husband in Yakota AFB, Japan had to move our effects and three children (one a seven month old and one with autism) back to the U.S.
    But I have great memories of visiting: swimming in the South China sea, bathtub warm; sailing in an outrigger, the incredible Filipino food, the gorgeous children, the heat lightning, the orchids etc.

    • Ouch. Ticks are no fun at all…
      True that the classes are pretty locked. Most people there have no access of the things we view as basic necessities. “Wealth” is an impossible dream. We truly are so lucky to be born here in the US.

      Thanks, Lelia

  3. My Dearest Ren,

    I think every child should be able to see outside the realm of his/her world. Whether it be rich or poor. I myself have been blessed with being able to see both. I was fortunate enough, to see that each side has a sameness although quite different. Confusing I know, the sameness is the want to see how someone else lives. To be able to be in their world and accepted even if for only one day.

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