Well, we are given no precise details about the background of Phoenix Jackson and her childhood, however, perhaps we can infer that if the discrimination she faces at the time of the setting of the story is anything to go by, her childhood must have been much worse. The one indication we are given about her childhood and the time in which she grew up comes in the following quote from Phoenix herself when she faces the rudeness of the nurse at the doctor's surgery and explains why she momentarily forgot her reason for coming:
"I never did go to school, I was too old at the Surrender," she said in a soft voice. "I'm an old woman without an education. It was my memory fail me."
The "Surrender" that Phoenix is refering to is actually the act that ended the Civil War. On April 9, 1865, Robert E. lee surrendered to the Union commander, Ulysses S. Grant in Virginia. The war's end was crucial in bringing about the end of slavery as an institution in the United States. This remark from Phoenix reveals that she was once a slave and that, therefore, at the time of this story, set in the 1930s, she is an old woman in her eighties or nineties. We can only imagine the kind of childhood that Phoenix must have had as a slave, and the hardships she would have faced.