An adoring view of a childhood nanny in Pinopolis, South Carolina, that does not disguise the ugly specter of 1950s segregation.
Williams, a former longtime professor of English at The Citadel, in Charleston, writes of growing up in the Deep South with both conviction and a sense of deep irony. The author was essentially raised by the African-American “help,” enlisted to take care of her when she was born in 1941. Eva Edwards Motte Aiken worked for the Williams family for 20 years, running a household consisting of three children and the disputatious, well-groomed parents who would eventually divorce. Eva was devoutly Christian and full of love and joy, unlike Williams’ own mother, Clara Lee, a college-educated, privileged white Southern girl and teacher who had her pick of husbands yet remained hard-shelled, unaffectionate, and undemonstrative toward her children. While Eva ran the household, Williams’ father, Buster, hailing from a long line of preachers, did his best to dismantle it, drinking heavily, squandering the inherited farm-supply business, beating the children, and running with women. As this is a Southern memoir, two themes predominate: family roots somnambulate spaciously, and the steely determination of the Southern female proves that it is not to be underestimated. As Buster continued his downward slide and stumbled along in appalling drunkenness, Eva and Clara Lee reshuffled the household. Clara Lee took command of the family business and eventually divorced the drunk, philandering Buster—even though divorce was fairly scandalous at that time in the South. Meanwhile, writes the author, “the tectonic plates underneath us were moving,” politically, socially, and personally. The author, while not a direct participant in civil rights activism, demonstrates enormous sympathy for the cause and puts Eva squarely in the narrative’s front seat.
An unabashedly emotional narrative that only occasionally requires readers to bushwhack through thick vines of memory.