CHILD

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Now 80, memoirist and novelist Goldman looks back at her special relationship with Mattie Culp, the Black woman who cared for her beginning when she was 3 years old. A live-in nanny, maid, and cook, Mattie also looked after Goldman’s two older siblings, but she especially pampered and indulged Judy, the youngest. The family lived in Rock Hill, South Carolina, when racist laws required Blacks to use separate water fountains, swimming pools, movie theaters, and bathrooms. In Judy’s house, however, her liberal Jewish parents treated Mattie like a member of the family. However, though she shared the one bathroom, she ate by herself in the kitchen rather than with the others in the dining room—something the young child did not understand. Goldman reflects on Mattie’s unusual relationship with her mother: The two women “cared about each other in that way that friends are there to bear witness to the details of each other’s lives.” One White, the other Black; one employer, the other her employee. Still, the author writes, “though their arrangement was rooted in discrimination, they loved each other indiscriminately.” Goldman paints a picture of a charmed childhood, when she was nurtured by Mattie as well as by her warm, devoted mother. Her father was strict, but Mattie was not cowed by him—although, Goldman discovered later, she almost quit several times because of his demands. As a child, the author never questioned the racism that pervaded her life and Mattie’s. But in writing the memoir, ruminating on what she thought she knew about Mattie; Mattie’s daughter, who was raised by family members; and Rock Hill society as a whole, she wonders, “Can we trust anything inside the system we were brought up in? A system founded on, and still dependent on, oppression?” What she does trust wholeheartedly is her enduring love for Mattie.

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