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In the 1960’s, in Alabama, a black maid was still a common help in white households. My grandfather’s maid, Beulah, had been with him for years and grown comfortably accustomed to his habits and preferences. My visits were rare, however, so she could never become quite used to me. She accepted my noisy intrusion into her quiet, orderly territory with cheerful resignation.
She was an exotic novelty in my all-white world and, at five, I wanted nothing more than to watch her, big and black, towering majestically over me as she muttered through her day’s work. If I could make her laugh, opening wide that great pink mouth to let loose a deep contralto belly-full of chuckles, my joy was complete.
One day my desire to pester my ‘playmate’ away from her chores and her desire to finish them in relative peace resulted in a game of hide and seek. Somehow, I was always the one hiding. Her attempts to find me seemed to grow more and more half-hearted. I didn’t know how long it had been since I discovered a great hidey-hole behind a big chair, but I had the feeling she’d forgotten all about me. I emerged with great trepidation, heart pounding with the expected thrill of surprising her and declaring myself the forever winner of the game.
Beulah had, indeed, forgotten me so thoroughly and gone on with her work so industriously that the moment of my shouting “BOO!” triumphantly was a moment of sheer terror for her. Her screaming and jumping were more than I had bargained for, and my excitement dissolved into frightened tears. Her sobs and exclamations made her seem a stranger to me – not my gentle, quiet friend in the least.
By the time my grandfather appeared to inquire if the house was on fire, we were both so hysterical we couldn’t explain a thing. His befuddlement and helpless attempts to set things straight turned our crying into laughter as unstoppable as the tears had been. He walked away unenlightened and muttering something about fickle females. We stayed friends, but never played that game again. I hope this memory gave Beulah a few chuckles to remember me by.