#4 O is for "Octavia" and the "Other side of the Tracks"

18 Oct 1906 ~  Feb 1994

Until I was 6 years old I had 2 individuals that were like members of my family that some said were “colored folk”  from the “other side of the tracks.”   My favorite and the one that was around the longest was Octavia.
Octavia was my grandparents housekeeper who also cooked  dinner at noon and played “nanny” to the four McCleary daughters.  I am not sure how long she was around before I was born (if at all) but I do know that there was a short period of time when she worked for my nuclear family as well.  My Grandparents apparently separated for a short period of time and came  to work for us…….. it was then and only then that I got to travel to the “other side of the tracks.”
I don’t have any photographs of Octavia and really am unsure if any exist in the archives that have been divided up amongst the McCleary daughters. They may exist somewhere but as of this writing I have been told that they “wish they did” have some.  How could that happen?  How could someone be in the center of a family and help raise many children , grandchildren, wash the clothes, cook the meals, keep the secrets and serve the guests  and not be properly represented in the many photographs that depict the life of the family?   Maybe she was just the picture taker?

Octavia did not drive but I am sure some people that lived on the same side of the tracks as she did - did drive, because one man {whom I forget his name) delivered prescriptions from my grandfather's drug store , so I know he had to have a drivers license.  There were several times I rode with my father to take Octavia or our other housekeeper, "Irma" home. I always wanted to ride with him and was disappointed when he didn't let me.  My curiosity always peeked around subject areas that were covert or that the children were not meant to hear.   I was determined to find out what exactly was the meaning of living on the “other side of the tracks.”
Octavia addressed everyone as “miss” “mister” or “mrs.” followed by a first or last name depending on their age or their status.  I wasn’t sure which but I did know that I was “miss angela” just as my father was “mr. buddy” but my Grandmother was always referred to as “Mrs. McCleary.” Even when speaking to me in reference to my Grandmother she addressed her formally and answered her "ma'am."  We all called her just “Octavia” without any formal prefix added and no matter what age we were. 

thanks to "remember natchitoches" website for posting

Octavia was referred to as “negro,” “black,”  “the maid,” and the “housekeeper” by my relatives. Really she was brown.  She wasn’t black …….her skin was the color of my Aunt Mary’s horse which we all called brown or chestnut, not “black" like the delivery driver's skin was.   I don’t know anything about Octavia’s personal life.  I never heard anyone ask her about it either.  I don’t know if she was married and had kids or grandkids of her own,  or who in the world took care of them while she worked all day taking care of my relatives?

Octavia was the one that I hugged when I ran into the house, I never remember doing the same with my Grandmother or my Grandfather either.  She was also the one that kept me company at the kitchen bar.  I was left there by myself often because I had to finish every thing on my plate which I didn't do very quickly or willingly either. Octavia would be left with me , washing dishes directly across the bar.  She would tell me stories and each bit of the story would be “bribed” ….meaning I had to take a bite of food to get the next bit of information.  My food would often be given rides to my mouth by airplanes, trains and horses with her making the sound of the respective mode of transportation as I brought the utinsil to my mouth.  She would sometimes sneak spoon fuls of sugar and sprinkle them on my corn or whatever vegetable I resisted eating in order to keep “miss tish” or “mr. buddy” from spanking me.  Eating was always an issue with me, I somehow got “rickets,” as a small child while my father was in Viet Nam and my mother was left to care for me.  My father, called this a 3rd world disease and was perplexed at how I could have ended up in the hospital with IV’s hooked to my feet when I lived in a family of “priveledge.”  He worked hard to make sure I ate properly so that I could not embarrass the family by contracting rickets again........ even if it meant  physically hitting me or actually pushing the food down my throat with their fingers ……Octavia didn’t like for the confrontation to occur and did her part to make sure it didn’t happen on her watch.
I remember one time my mother was driving me somewhere…..not sure where (she didn’t tell me either and I am sure that I asked).  I watched through the passenger side window trying to figure out our destination.  As we traveled down the road I spotted Octavia sitting in a rocking chair on her porch,  “YES” I thought, “We are going to visit Octavia at her house!”   We were not traveling very fast and as I hollared out “Octavia” I also opened the car door, not knowing that my mother had no intention of stopping…….the car door swung open and my small framed body was flung into the street .  Octavia came to my rescue from her porch and cleaned my wounds tenderly with a cloth, I just had a bit of road burn on my hands, knees and legs nothing serious.  I remember Octavia being so gentle and wiping my tears before I had to get back into the car.  I never got to go inside of Octavias house and asked why we didn’t stay when I got back in the car.  I was scolded for opening the door and told that we didn’t go inside of colored peoples houses,  “we were better than that”  “Better than what?”  “Quit asking so many questions.”

I wasn't informed or advised of Octavia's death or even her last name until recently...... and even though I wasn't around her for most of my life.....the tracks she laid in the early years will remain forever in my heart.

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