Birdie came to our home every single Wednesday for as long as I can remember. She worked for my parents, my grandparents, my great-grandmother, my great aunt and uncle, and my great-great aunts in whose home I live today on Pine Tree.
Two days after finally seeing the movie The Help, I stopped by my grandmother’s house. Pulling a coke zero out of her fridge, I noticed this picture pinned to the side with a magnet. There is another picture of Birdie and my cousin Katie that has been on the front of the fridge for as long as I can remember, but I have never, ever, seen this picture before. I showed it to my grandmother who began to cry, me soon to follow.
My memories of Birdie include her delicious buttermilk biscuits which I was never allowed to request that she make unless I got mom’s permission first. (I assume that these instructions were due to my waiting for mom to be somewhere else in the house, and then my asking Birdie to make things for me that I didn’t need because I knew Birdie would hook me up.) Along the same lines, I also remember the days that I wouldn’t clean my room because I knew Birdie was coming. Mom would ask Birdie not to clean my room on those days, because it was not her job to pick up my mess. Birdie would agree, and then after washing my sheets, she would stack all my clutter from bedroom to closet in neat piles on the bed that had corresponding locations on the shelves or in the drawers. Afterward, she would wink and tell me that she couldn’t clean up my room because it wasn’t her job to pick up my mess. I would put away the stacks quickly, and we both made it below the radar.
She spoiled me for sure despite my parents’ best efforts otherwise.
What I remember the most, however, is the conversation we would have every Wednesday afternoon when dropping Birdie off for the day. I would be riding in the back of our old Toyota van, and as Birdie got out of the passenger seat, I would slide the huge back door open and call out, “Birdie! If you ever need anything just call!”
Every week, the same process. The same line.
I had no idea how much Birdie needed, and how much I had in comparison. I also didn’t know how much she had that I needed like my life depended on it. I remember riding with my parents out to Birdie’s house one night so Dad could fix her water heater, and I was struck with the old, country house. Its dark walls and hanging, exposed lightbulbs. All perfectly kept and cared for. Birdie did not live like I lived, but she never called to say she needed anything from me. Birdie became magical that evening.
I think about how often even still in my own life, I call out strikingly ignorant offers to help others from my buckled up seat in the back of the van. Birdie’s legacy lives on in our family as humble, gentle, strong and faithful. She gave all she had to her church and to her family. Even still, I sit writing this in a home she has worked to make a home more than I have in my seven years here.
Mom told me one day as Birdie was walking off and I pulled the heavy sliding door closed, “Birdie will be your boss in heaven, Donald. Don’t forget that.” That day, I did not understand that comment at all.
As mom and dad and I walked out of the movie this past week, it was that phrase that immediately came to mind.
I’m only beginning to understand.