Porge

Georgia and me, probably 1958

“Georgia stayed most of the day Monday through Friday and half a day on Saturday. Wages were so low for household and yard help then and nearly everyone had full time maids and yard men at least once a week. We paid Georgia $12 a week plus $3 for cab fare, which was the prevailing wage at that time. She ironed, cleaned the house, cooked and nursed.

“Just the diapers were a big job since there were no Pampers or other disposable diapers at that time and we used cloth diapers. Unless you have ever used cloth diapers you cannot imagine how many a baby goes through in one day. We did have a washing machine but no dryer. On pretty days they were hung on the clothes line, while on bad days they were either hung in the attic or on a rack over the floor furnace in the hall.

“She [Georgia] soon became a member of the family and was like a second mother to Cathy and Mary Carol. She loved them like they were hers and still calls them ‘my children’ [1990]. She was a wonderful cook and spoiled us with all the good dishes she turned out. I made the desserts because that is what I liked to cook best, especially when I had someone else to clean up after me.”

Georgia in the Criss kitchen

“Georgia told us that she had gone to the second or third grade in a little rural school. She had mostly taught herself to read and write and probably could have learned easily if she had had the opportunity. When she came along, blacks in the South did not have the opportunities to become educated like white people. If they went to school at all, it was often to little one room schools on the plantations, and many of them never learned to read or write.”

I have anticipated and dreaded this posting since the blog began. Sara’s words introduced you to her and all her family, and all I had to do was add an observation or two at the end. But you don’t know Georgia Edwards, and it falls on me to present this remarkable saint to the world.

Christmas Eve, probably 1962

So, what can I say? Except that this gentle black woman, who Cathy and I called Porge, raised in a shack somewhere near Hazlehurst and married twice in cotton fields, somehow made her way up to the Delta and impacted my life in a way that few people ever have or ever will. I simply have no memories of my first years that don’t involve Georgia. My earliest, dim recollections are of trailing along behind her, with one thumb in my mouth and the other hand clutching her apron strings, listening to her hum gospel songs while she cooked and cleaned and ironed.  I certainly knew who my mother was, and there was never a better one than Sara, but Georgia was the quiet comforter who just radiated adoration for me. I truly believe that everyone who is mentally stable has had at least one soul in their life who was convinced they could do no wrong, leavened of course by others who were more realistic. I had two of those advocates: My father and my Porge. Blessings upon blessings upon blessings.

It is impossible to live in Greenwood, Mississippi during the last couple of years and not evaluate your life and upbringing in relation to the stories told in The Help. As I sat through that film with my husband, my son and my daughter-in-law, I just lost every scrap of composure about half way through the movie. I knew cruel families who mistreated their maids. They were not admired. And I knew that Georgia was as much a member of the Criss family as were any of the four of us who shared bloodlines. She took care of us and as she aged, we took care of her. One of the darkest days of my life was  when Daddy called me, his voice cracking, to tell me that Porge was gone. I was 37, she was just shy of 80, but I felt like the bottom rung of my life’s ladder had been chopped away.

Georgia and me, 1969

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About sec040121

Hello....I'm in possession of a priceless collection of memoirs and memorabilia left by my mother, Sara Evans Criss. She was a native and lifelong (88 years!) devotee of our small town, who covered this peculiar and volatile corner of the world for 30 years as the Memphis Commercial Appeal's Greenwood bureau chief, a job that started out with debutantes and high school football and wound up spang in the midst of one of the twentieth century's most enduring social upheavals. This blog is dedicated to her memory and the legacy she left behind, both for her family and her community.
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5 Responses to Porge

  1. Debbie Wiles says:

    Hey, Mary Carol. Thanks for this brave post. I have a photo of you and Georgia in my office, right where I can see it every day that I sit down to write book 2. How do you pronounce “Porge”? What luck you had in your life, to be so loved, so well, for so long. xoxo

  2. sec040121 says:

    “Porge” rhymes with “George.” A child’s riff on “Georgie Peorgie, Pudding and Pie.” And I didn’t get lucky so much as blessed, over and over again.

  3. Linda Post Carter says:

    Mary Carol…I have loved reading every word of your blog. They are my memories, too. We had a beloved family maid, also, and my oh my how we loved her. I still grieve for her today! I cried all the way thru THE HELP. I knew I would. Thank you for bringing us such a wonderful insight into the world of our young parents and our young selves, too!
    Linda Post Carter

    • sec040121 says:

      Linda, it’s so wonderful to hear from you! We did grow up in a special time and place, didn’t we? And so many of us were shaped and nurtured by women like Georgia. I’m just grateful I have this outlet to share my memories of her with others. Take care and hope to see you again soon.

  4. jenny says:

    what a great photo of you and her. love this one
    I wish i had gotten a chance to meet her

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