January 2009

Evelyn was a giant, the first I ever met. She was my grandmother’s cleaning lady. Before I was old enough for school, I went with my mother to Grandma’s house every week, and we often went on cleaning day.

Evelyn wore faded house dresses, and slippers that showed her bare heels. Her arms and hands were huge, and her legs were like tree trunks. She had long, dark, curly hair that fell to her shoulders; I remember her shiny eyes and gaps between her teeth, her face worn and childlike at the same time.

She was often finishing up as we arrived, splashing in the bathroom, or putting away a mop and bucket, then pulling on a coat before walking to the bus. But once when we came in the door, she was sitting at the kitchen table, where Grandma gave her lunch. My mother was holding my hand, and said, “Say hello to Evelyn” and I said, “Hello.” And Evelyn raised one hand, smiled brightly with her mouth wide open and said something that might have been “Hi” in a voice that gurgled like a stream.

I still remember the warmth and openness of that smile, for a little boy from a giant woman. I wish there was a picture of Evelyn somewhere, but families then were not in the habit of including the cleaning lady in their photo albums.


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