In the summer of 1954, thirteen-year-old Jubie Watts embarks on a trip with her family from their home in Charlotte, North Carolina, to visit their mother's brother, Uncle Taylor Bentley, in Pensacola, Florida. Jammed into the car are Jubie; Mama; sixteen-year-old sister Stell, who has a driver's license and is anxious to use it; the two youngest children, seven-year-old Puddin and two-year-old Davie; and the family's black maid, Mary. Daddy will not be coming along on this leg of the trip, but will meet everyone later for an extended vacation at South Carolina's Pawley's Island.
Traveling through the segregated South with a person of color during this period is a difficult and potentially dangerous undertaking. Few motels will provide accommodations for "colored," restaurants which cater to the white population will not serve blacks, and rumors of Klan activity are rampant. Along the way, Mama manages to find a motor court in the small town of Wickens, Georgia, whose manager offers to house Mary in a tiny cabin with a broken chair and a straw-tick mattress for the night for an exorbitant fee. Things are no better in Tuskegee, Alabama, where Jubie notes a superfluous number of signs extolling the virtues of segregation; she cannot remember seeing signs like these back at home.
Jubie remembers her wonderfully peaceful childhood years prior to 1952, before the Watts family moved to the big house Daddy built on Queens Road West in Charlotte. In the cozy cabin on Shumont Mountain which had been their abode, Mama and Daddy never fought, and it was evident how much they loved each other. When Jubie was five, Mary had come to work for the family. She was the first "colored" person the little girl had ever seen.
After the move to Queens Road West, problems arose between Mama and Daddy, and Mama in particular grew increasingly unhappy and emotionally distant. Mary, who had already taken on most of the responsibility for the house's upkeep and the children's physical needs, was the mainstay of stability in Jubie and her siblings' lives. She was the person to whom they turned for affirmation and comfort. Jubie, who was gangly and awkward in comparison to her comely sister Stell, was especially drawn to Mary, and even as a young child, she had wondered about the treatment the housekeeper was forced to endure at the hands of the white adults in her life. Daddy was demeaning in his dealings with...
(The entire section is 2502 words.)
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