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August 2009

The Help

I just finished reading The Help by Kathryn Stocket and just loved it. Struck me as a cross between Gone with the Wind and Little Women. Ms. Stocket does a great job of writing in the voice of an oppressed black woman, which she had apprehension about trying to do. Of course, I'm just another white woman, so perhaps my opinion isn't the best to judge by. But to me, it rang very true.

There have been many books written about slavery, racism, and oppression, but it's still shocking to me that this was going on in America just forty years ago. It's one of those things that you know to be true, but every time you hear it, it's still shocking.

The characters Ms. Stocket creates are unforgettable. Aibileen, a woman of intelligence, bravery, a great writer and kind soul, working as a maid, living alone after the death of her only child. Minny, loud and strong, never afraid to speak her mind or stand up for herself, except when it comes to her abusive husband. Miss Celia, a woman who married above her class, but is shunned by every woman in town for her white trash ways. Miss Hilly, the queen bee, socialite extraordinaire, that rules the town with her elitism and prejudice packaged as the healthy, christian way of life. She ends up eating shit. Literally. So wonderful when a character gets their just desserts.

And you can't leave out Miss Skeeter. A woman who believes there's more that defines a woman than getting married and having kids. She's the central character that brings it all together. With her explosive idea to write a book documenting the lives of maids in her hometown, she begins crossing a line that's seriously dangerous in Mississippi in the 1960's. But as Aibileen tells us, there were never any lines anyway. "I used to believe in em. I don't anymore. They in our heads. People like Miss Hilly is always trying to make us believe they there. But they ain't."

The book is also a reminder of how important words can be, how powerful it is to have a voice. Minny worries repeatedly that they're risking their lives to write this book, and why? How important can it be, what they're doing, telling what it is to be a maid. "This ain't . . .  we aint' doing no civil rights here. We just telling stories like they really happen."

But isn't that the lesson of the novel? The importance of our real life stories? Just telling your story, having that voice, is a freedom, a right. The power in speaking up, of saying the way things really are, there's often no braver or more political an act. Fiction or no, it's a statement.

Many of the most notorious moments of the sixties are woven seamlessly through the novel: the Ku Klux Klan, the assassination of JFK, the Freedom March led by Martin Luther King. To imagine what it must have been to a be a black woman in Mississippi during that time, it's heart wrenching and terrifying. Or even to be a white woman in Mississippi trying to defy the expectations of marriage and children, recognizing the racism all around you perpetuated by your friends and family for the hate that it actually is.  

The Help is a passionate story of women and our universal bonds. As Miss Skeeter realizes by the end of the novel: "Wasn't that the point of the book? For women to realize, We are just two people. Not that much separates us. Not nearly as much as I'd thought. But Lou Anne, she understood the point of the book before she ever read it. The one who was missing the point this whole time was me."

Isn't it great when you finally get it?


Home Improvement

I have been sleeping on the floor of my living room for a month now. On my mattress on the floor, but still the floor. Our living room is now our temporary bedroom. This is a result of the water damage done to our bedroom after the roofers took the shingles off over part of bedroom right before it torrentially downpoured. I was not home to see the damage occur. Blackstone and the kids were. It wasn't pretty.

While I do partially blame the contractor for not paying more attention to the weather, there was a 30-75% chance of shower almost every day in May and June. Sometimes it rained. Many days it didn't. If it did rain, it was often for about 15 minutes and then it was over. There was really no knowing what the hell was going on.

They should have been more prepared with tarps to cover the roof. They had a tarp. It wasn't big enough. They had to use one of ours too. And when they put the tarps up, they made the horrendous mistake of putting them over the gutters instead of under them. Our gutters run into a dry well which backed up and over flowed the gutter. We had a waterfall in our bedroom.

Our contractor assured us it would dry out and be fine. I would have called my insurance company immediately, except Blackstone had hired his uncle. Be forewarned. If you ever have a waterfall in your bedroom, call your insurance company immediately.

We ran a dehumidifier in our room for days, but still after a few days I started noticing it didn't smell right. At that point it was fourth of July weekend. Blackstone was gone, trying to reach anyone would be pointless. I was still loath to call the insurance company on family. I looked up the number of a specialized cleaning company that deals with mold. I gave my husband the number the day he got back and told him to get someone out to the house. They, of course, told us we had mold growing from the water damage and the wall and part of the ceiling would have to removed. It's also important to note here, that if you do experience terrible water damage to your home, if you get the cleaning company out there within the first 72 hours, they can dry it out without the damaged areas having to be completely gutted. I seem to always learn the useful tidbits of information after I need them. Perhaps I can spare you that pain and aggravation.

We explained all this to the Uncle who disagreed that we had any mold problems. He told us the cleaning company was just trying to make a buck. Once he finished the roof, we had him open a section of the wall. Guess what? Mold. And lots of it. At this point, we'd already moved out of the bedroom. My worst allergy is to mold and mildew. I didn't need any further proof than my own damn stuffed nose and itchy eyes to know the cleaning company wasn't making this sh*t up.

At that point, we just laid it all out. We had no choice but to call the insurance company and have the mold removed by an experienced company. The Uncle still disagreed. He said he could do the repairs himself. He did not, however, believe that part of the ceiling had to be removed. Even after I pointed out the mold growing visibly, albeit very tiny spores, on the ceiling.

"Just water stains," he insisted.

"No," I insisted right back. "In the water stains, there's mold."

We called the insurance company. Again, I was not here to experience the joy of being interrogated by the gustapo, aka the Insurance agent, who was none too thrilled that we had waited two weeks to call this in. They did cover the repairs though, because in the long run, it's going to be the contractor's insurance shelling out the cash. Of course the real kicker in all this is that the Uncle is not licensed in RI (only MA) and has let his insurance lapse. This was a bold faced lie told to us. We had asked him if he was insured and he told us he was.

I will never allow a contractor to do such drastic work on my house without having copy of their license and insurance in my hand. And that contractor will likely never be family again.

Luckily, one of the guys he had working with him is licensed in RI and has insurance. He's the one that's going to get screwed in all this. The Uncle is trying to work out some kind of deal here, to prevent any serious problems. The Uncle has been on vacation, and the licensed guy and his buddy did the repairs on our bedroom.

But now that our bedroom has been half gutted, we've decided to put in a radiant heat floor. We have electric base boards in our bedroom that are expensive and provide seriously awful heat. It's dry and dusty. Our bedroom was originally a garage, and that room gets extremely cold in the winter. The floor is always freezing, so radiant heat would be a great improvement. We purchased purgo to put in over the heating pads, and Blackstone, his brother, and a buddy ripped up the floor planks this past weekend. Guess what? No insulation to speak of under the floor. Nope. Just some two-by-fours over the concrete slab. No wonder it gets so f-ing cold in there.

I've no doubt that our bedroom will come out of this more fabulous than before, and that perhaps there's a silver lining here.

Right now, I just want my bedroom back. That and my walkway that Blackstone had jack hammered up two months ago that is still a pile of rubble. By the end of the summer I've told him. I WANT my damn walkway back. I was happy enough with it the way it was to begin with.

I'm really hoping after this, that there are no more home improvement projects for a while. Of cousre, Blackstone's already talking about radiant heat floors for his office. Lord help us. How much home improvement can one marriage take? We've been at this for two years now. The floor refinishing, wall paper removal, painting, an entire new kitchen, three new toilets, a new roof. I mean, it's great when it's done. But when do we really get to be DONE? You know, as in, there is no room in my house or part of my lawn that is torn up right now?

When they ask you what finally drove me over the edge, you'll know what to tell them, right?

She just couldn't take any more home improvement. Just give her a prescription of Xanax and keep her away from the circular saw and everything will be just fine.