Thursday, September 19, 2013
I cannot tell you exactly when I first fell in love with a woman, maybe some fifty years ago. I do not count the women of my family nor the two pretty blonde-haired girls who lived on either end of the street on which I grew up on. She was of regular height, had a beautiful, gold-tooth, sparkling smile and a light bronze, freckled complexion. My sister Janet, my brother Henry and I couldn’t pronounce her real name, Evie. We called her “Ebbie.” And, some fifty years later on the 101st anniversary of her birth, I think of the days of my youth, when most things in America were still good. And, I think about the woman I first loved and one I always will love, a woman named “Ebbie.”
Evie “Ebbie” White was born on a farm in southwestern Laurens County on July 31, 1912. Her grandparents, Stephen and Violet White and Guyton and Caroline Fullwood were all adult or teenage slaves at the end of the Civil War. Ebbie’s momma and daddy, Loyd and Rosa Fullwood White, had a hard life, working in the fields for more hours a week than any should - working all the time, just to keep themselves and their family fed and as comfortable as they could.
Ebbie too worked in the fields picking cotton and other crops. She had very little education compared to us. Her lack of advanced schooling did not mean that she was ignorant, far from it. As she matured, Ebbie took on all sorts of jobs cleaning houses, offices and even Claxton Hospital for a good while. I do not mention Ebbie’s married name. She had not too much use for the scoundrel she regrettably married early in life.
We first came to know Ebbie on Saturday nights. Our parents, Jane and Dale Thompson, while they were in the prime of life, loved to go to dances and play bridge games. So, when it was time for them to go out on the town, Ebbie became one of our first baby sitters. Her sister, Laner White Manning, had been our maid and baby sitter as well.
It was these two sisters, Ebbie and Laner, along with our other maids from time to time, Elaine Thomas and Ethel Wells, who first introduced me to the inner beauty of the African-American maids of the mid 20th Century South. I still remember the day I cried and Ethel cried when she was not able to work for us anymore. There was a whole lot of squalling going on that sad afternoon when Momma took her home for the last time. I can still show you the spot where the Ethel’s old ramshackle house on Highway 319 was once located. And Elaine, well there was a character is there ever was one. Elaine carried the spirit of the Lord with her everywhere she went. She would get upset at some of our antics , but soon the joy of Jesus took over and you could see the gold teeth shining and the spiritual music exuding out of her soul.
The mid 1960s were a time of trials and tribulations in our nation and our community. As pre-teenagers, we were somewhat immune from the strife here in Dublin. We used to hear Ebbie tell tales of the days when Sheriff Carlus Gay would come to the black neighborhoods and “all the colored people” would run and hide.
When we moved from Stonewall to Brookwood, our nights with Ebbie became even more wonderful. Our parents didn’t have enough money to furnish our living room. With its large expanse and green carpet, the new empty room served well as a tackle football field and wrestling arena.
Although we were banned by our mother from wrestling and throwing a football in the living room, Ebbie tolerated our foolishness until we got too wild or interfered with her hearing her television shows. Her favorite, Gunsmoke, would bring her to her feet, squealing and cheering Matt Dillon as he pommeled the bad guys.
Without a doubt the best times came when the all too unreal wrestling matches came on our black and white television. All of us eventually figured out they were fake, but you could never convince Ebbie that the fighting wasn’t real.
New Year’s Eves were the best. That’s when we learned about all the things you are supposed and not supposed to do on New Year’s Day.
“I learned a lot of superstitions from her; ‘Don’t wash your bed sheets between Christmas and New Year’s, don’t gather broom straw in the New Year - wait for frost, then collect it prior to New Year’s day,” my sister Janet recalled.
Ebbie would say, “Anything you do on New Year’s Day, you will be doing all year long,” so right after midnight I would go find some left over Christmas candy and gobble it down. I later figured out that she really meant household chores.
Gardening was a special talent in which Ebbie excelled in. To keep the snakes away, she would go to Black’s Seed Store and pick up a big paper sack filled with sulphur. And, to make doubly sure, she would line the perimeter of her house and soak any possible entrances with the smelly yellow powder. Ebbie was a master grower of roses. Her secret - tea grinds - placed around the base of a rose bush produced bushes more than seven feet tall. I know, I saw them and couldn’t reach the tops. She also figured out that to keep a house plant container from flowing over, place ice cubes in them which would slowly melt into the soil.
No one, with the possible exception of our mother and few other people in our lives, could bake a pound cake more delicious than Ebbie. On every occasion and just because she loved us, she would bake us a fresh, warm and oh so delightful pound cake.
For most of her later years, Ebbie got to live in a new, or virtually new, house. It was one of the greatest times in her life when she moved into a Housing Authority apartment for seniors on Druid Street. We all helped furnish her home with some of our furniture from our old home. Later we bought her a color television.
Ebbie continued to work for me in my office until the late 1980s. Most days I would take her home to save the cab fare. Lots of times, I got a whole or a half of a pound cake out of the gesture, although that’s not why I did it. Ebbie didn’t eat “hog meat” and she didn’t like the government cheese she got once a month. So, I would buy her a month’s supply of peach snuff at Piggly Wiggly and swap it for those foot long, delicious blocks of cheddar cheese. You couldn’t get them in any store.
I count as one of our greatest legacies from our parents the fact that their children were never taught to hate black people just because of their color. Many white people of our parent’s and grandparent’s generations did not allow black people to eat at the table with themselves and their families. My sister, my brother and I weren’t raised that way. Ebbie ate with us just like she was a member of our family. We knew in our hearts that she was family as if she was one of a score of great aunts we cherished. She was always there, at graduations, birthdays, anniversaries, births and weddings.
"She was more like a grandparent than a baby-sitter. I loved to see her smile, it would light up the room. She was as proud of us as our own parents were. We were her's and she was ours," my brother Henry recalled.
There were many “Ebbies” Laners, Elaines and Ethels in our community and around the South. They worked hard with very little pay. And, they were the last of a generation. Surely, many of these treasured women were never given the recognition and the rights they should have been afforded. But, in my mind, they were put on this Earth in some way to help bridge the gaps of racism and violence and to bring us forward as a nation.
L-R - Back Row, Scott Thompson, Henry Thompson
Front Row - Evie White, Janet T. Greer, Rosetta Horne
Many of you who grew up before the 1980s knew and loved ladies like Ebbie who had a profound influence on our lives. Make no mistake, the lives of these ladies were not easy and most often not fair. They truly loved us and we, well, we truly loved them. Sadly, the days of ladies like Ebbie White are nearly gone forever.
But they don’t have to be. For you see, the greatest gift Ebbie ever gave to us was an undying, unwavering, color blind love for us and we for her. We obviously knew what color she was. But when we saw her there was no color of her skin. All we saw was a smiling, laughing, and caring soul.
Ebbie left the Earth on October 17, 1995. Both of our grandmothers died that following winter. It was indeed a sad time for all of us. Three women who had meant so much to each of us were no longer there for us to visit and recall the good times we used to have. I loved them all, but as long as I breathe I will remember the first woman I ever loved, a woman named Ebbie.