Diminutive. Loving, patient, kind, tough are other words that describe Johnny but diminutive is the word that comes to me.
A small woman, no more than 5 feet tall and weighing less than one-hundred pounds, Johnny packed a wallop. When I would talk back to her, she would grab me by the collar, spin me around and whack my rear end to remind me sassing wasn’t allowed.
From before my first birthday until I left for college, Johnny Davis worked for my parents. Six days a week, my mother would deliver her to our house; 8 hours later—4 on saturdays—she would take her home. I don’t know how much pay she received—I’m sure less than $10 a day plus meals—but it wasn’t enough, not for a housekeeper, cook and stand-in mother.
My mom stayed involved in the community. Bridge Club, Garden Club, Women’s Club, the Ladies Golf Association, every afternoon was occupied. Her activities involved more than being a social butterfly, in a small community where relationships “mattered” her connections helped to build my father’s business. In the afternoons Johnny cared for me: snacks served, cuts bandaged and discipline applied—she could twist an ear until it almost fell off. She loved me as the child she never had.
Playing with Byron McClellan, who lived close by, I fell hand first on a broken bottle. Clutching my hand to my stomach I ran home. Johnny hearing my cries, opened the back door and found me with what appeared to be a pierced stomach. Dr. Hartley Davis–who delivered me, set bones and sewed me up until I was a young adult—closed the cut with stitches; I was fine. Johnny wasn’t. Years later, my father related how the shock of my seeming to be severely injured affected her for months.
I was sixteen, when my parents attended a weekend long meeting and left me home alone. Saturday night I hosted an unauthorized and ill-advised party: girls, music, dancing and alcohol—lots of alcohol. I awoke Sunday morning to a wrecked home and an inability to do anything about it. I felt as if someone was hammering a nail into my brain and my stomach heaved when I moved.
Staring out the window, contemplating running away, I saw Johnny climbing the back stairs. I remember her words as she opened the door, “Look at you; you’re a mess. Your momma and daddy are going to send you to military school, and you deserve to go—you hear me! I knew you were going to get in trouble.” Then lifting me by my ear she growled, ”Get up and get going, we have a mess to clean up.” To keep her “baby” out of trouble she sacrificed her day off.
When I left for college, my parents purchased a smaller home and let Johnny go. After college, I would visit Johnny only infrequently: sometimes by choice but more often because she would need something. The woman who loved me enough to bandage my wounds, smack my butt and clean up my mess, to my sorrow, became an object of my charity.
I cannot think about Johnny without reflecting on the culture in which I was raised. The business and professional communities my father belonged to participated in a racism that in ways proved to be more harmful than the hate-filled dark side of the South. Theirs’ reflected a patronizing duty to care for what they believed to be inferior people. They couldn’t abide the race haters. However, they treated as children the people who tilled their fields, labored on their jobs, cooked their food and cared for their infants.
Aspects of the old south are reflected in the attitudes of some of today’s leaders. The patronizing conviction that “we know what is good for you” leads the condescending Mayor Bloombergs of this world to attempt to dictate people’s lives. Elitist thought—whether based on race, education or wealth—is bigoted as well as anti democratic; limiting freedom and opportunity.
A free people are permitted to make their own decisions, even bad ones; they are rewarded for taking risks and allowed to fail. Free people create prosperity that lifts all and provides the means to help others.