The National Catholic Review

I had never bathed anyone but a child before and it was
awkward and even embarrassing when Mrs. Groves needed
me to bathe her I just didn’t think I could do it but I did and
she just sat there her beautiful black skin stripped of the last dignity.

 

I could just hardly keep from crying as I rubbed her with
the washrag and the water rushed over her and ran down
the drain and I wondered where else she had lost her dignity
because when my mother came to visit she told me “you don’t have
to hug me (I did that a lot) in front of her” because my mother
might not approve of her daughter hugging an old black woman.

What dignity was a black baby girl born with anyway in 1901 when
her black mother had got pregnant by a white man? Plenty of dignity
I told her and look at your life and how you ran your husband’s
business when he was drunk and you tailored yourself elegant suits and
you had your house as nice as anyone else and yes I will
hug you and so will my mother and she did.

But it was too late and the water was all over the floor and I dried
her and covered her and wished I could give back what I don’t know
if she ever had and now I knew it was too late like water
down the drain so I just cleaned up the floor and hugged her again.


Linda Romey, O.S.B., is a Benedictine sister of Erie, Pa. Currently, she is director of marketing for National Catholic Reporter in Kansas City, Kan.This poem is one of three runners-up in the 2006 Foley Poetry Contest.

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