I wish that I knew what I know now
When I was younger
I wish that I knew what I know now
When I was stronger
Ron Lane / Ronald David Wood
Sung by Rod Stewart
(Eunice and mom / June 16th, 1953)
Throughout my entire life, I only knew her by her first name…Eunice.
Eunice passed from this life shortly after I arrived into this world–
into this family…
I was born in 1959 and eventually adopted in early 1960— Eunice,
on the other hand, had already long since “retired” from the years she spent
with my grandmother, mother, and aunt.
I imagine that our family’s circle was somewhat complete when Eunice finally
met me when mom and dad had brought me home from the adoption agency in 1960.
They were so proud to show off their new baby to this very special part of my
I had always heard about Eunice but really knew very little about her.
As long as they had lived, both my mom and aunt spoke of Eunice with
only adoration and abiding love.
For you see, Eunice was more the mother to these two girls rather than their
Eunice was a black woman, only a year older than my grandmother.
A black woman who raised two white little girls.
I found her listed on the Atlanta 1940 census records.
She was listed as a part of the household of my grandfather…listed as a servant.
And it was in that census record that I first learned of Eunice’s last name…Dunn.
And that she was but a year older than my grandmother…
My grandmother was 36, Eunice was 37.
This, however, is not a tale about the well-to-do verses something akin to “The Help.”
This is a story about a young working widow and the other woman who helped her
raise her daughters.
Two women working to make ends meet during a precarious time in our Nation’s history.
The part of the story that I always knew was that my grandmother was widowed in 1940,
at the ripe young age of 36.
She had two young daughters–one who was 6 and the youngest who was 1.
My grandmother’s husband, my grandfather, died of alcohol-induced TB while
spending his final days in a TB sanatorium–dying at the age of 40.
My grandfather had squandered their entire life’s savings during the great depression.
My grandmother, as long as I had known her, had a deep wariness of men and
never trusted a man who drank…despite her affinity for Vodka later in life.
Over the years, she liked my dad yet despised my uncle, my aunt’s husband.
Probably with good reason but that’s a story for another day.
Growing up, I can never ever recall my grandmother ever speaking of her husband…
A man who died nearly 20 years before I was born.
This man–his name, his memory was deemed persona non gratis within this small family.
But Eunice…Eunice, she was special.
My grandmother, at 36 years old, while during a depression and world war,
had two little girls who she needed to provide for.
Eunice at 37 also had a family she needed to provide for.
My grandmother went to work and even took in borders during the War.
Yet despite these precarious times, I always knew that my mom,
aunt and grandmother had Eunice.
Eunice was a black woman who worked as a housekeeper for my grandmother.
Later, in order to make ends meet, my grandmother actually took in her older unmarried sister.
The two opened a beauty salon for the upper crust women of Atlanta.
While they spent their days cutting, perming, and dying the hair of Atlanta’s upper crust,
Eunice tended to my mother and aunt.
She cooked, cleaned, and fed the family.
She bought groceries, got my mom and aunt ready for school each morning
and met them each afternoon following school.
She always had supper ready and waiting for my grandmother and her sister after they’d
take the bus home late each evening.
Eunice would arrive each Monday morning and would stay until Saturday morning.
She had her own room and basically kept the house running.
She would go home to her own family on Saturday afternoon, only to return to my grandmother
every Monday morning.
This routine ran for 20 plus years.
Years later my aunt and I would both lament about the sacrifices Eunice had made
for both her own family and my grandmother’s family.
It was a difficult time as the world suffered through both the Great Depression and a world war.
This was a generation that was more familiar with the idea of sacrifice over protests
I remember my aunt telling me about how, as a little girl, she would have to ride
in the back of the bus with Eunice.
This being life in the South during segregation.
However to my mother, aunt, and grandmother…there were never any color barriers…
no segregation…all they knew was what made a family, family…
and Eunice was very much a part of that family.
The only pictures I’ve ever seen of Eunice were found in a musty old envelope of photos
that had been stored away in our attic…in a box of things that had been dads following
mother’s death in 1986.
I’ve looked and looked over the internet for any little nugget I could find regarding
Eunice—but the only thing I found was the 1940 census record which listed her
as a part of the Watson’s family.
I wanted to write something that would provide Eunice with the place of honor
that she so rightly deserved and held in the hearts of both my mom and aunt…
but with so little to go on, that has proved difficult.
With the loss of my grandmother in 1989, mother in 1986, and Martha in 2017—
those who knew best are now long gone.
I wanted people to know that despite what our current culture screams about racism,
there has been love that remained colorblind long before the radicalism
of movements such as the Black Panthers or today’s Black Lives Matter.
So I want to say thank you to a woman who I never really knew but who had met me
a very long time ago.
I want to thank her for making both my mom and aunt into the women they become,
in turn, making me the woman who I have become.
Love and family are strong bonds.
Bonds that have each helped to make me the person I am today.
Thank you, Eunice.
(Mother and Eunice, 1953)
(Mother on her big day / 1953)
(Mother with her mother, Mimi / 1953)
(mother with her father in law, my beloved Pop / 1953)
(Mother and dad off to a honeymoon / 1953)
But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household,
he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
1 Timothy 5:8