Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Little Miss

I've mentioned in an earlier post that, like in pre-school, all the teachers at beauty school are addressed as "Miss." Miss Kathy, Miss Lisa, Miss Ebony. Since I began the program, most of the other students also address me as "Miss" -- "Miss Cynthia." Initially this made me extremely uncomfortable. Because...

When I was a very small child my grandparents had full-time "help." Beatrice and Herbert. They were Negroes (this was 1964-ish). Beatrice was mostly in the kitchen helping Grandma and Herbert did stuff in the yard, the garage. These two people had been with my grandparents since my mother was a child. And, this being dysfunctional WASPy-wasp-land, my mother always felt that Beatrice was more her mother than that tall, skinny white woman. (And in fact, when Mummy was dying she asked for Beatrice; which is how I know that Beatrice really was her emotional mother.) But I digress (as usual). Beatrice and Herbert both called me "Miss Cynthia." As a four/five/six year old I was very confused as to why these grown-ups, who were so like my grandparents, would address me as if I were a grown-up too. I don't remember ever asking anyone why; but like a lot of things in WASPy-wasp-land, I was probably cued not to "say anything." By the time I was seven or so, Beatrice and Herbert were gone. I don't know where they went, if they passed away or what their last names were. I'm not even sure my mother know Beatrice's last name (although Mummy did keep a framed picture of Beatrice on her dresser.) Still whenever I've thought about Beatrice and Herbert, the thing I remember most is how they called me "Miss Cynthia;" and how strange it felt, how racist, how classist.

So forty years later I get to beauty school and all these young Black girls are calling me "Miss Cynthia," and IT'S BEEN CREEPING ME OUT. BIG TIME. But the joke's on me 'cause yesterday I flat out asked what the deal is and was told "Miss Cynthia it's cause you're old." Ha! Any student over the age of 40 is "Miss." In the place I am now, it's not about race, or class, it's about age. There's me, Miss Marcy, Miss Chantel. Friends will also call each other "Miss," regardless of age. So it can also be a term of endearment.

So here I've been getting all tangled up in my emotional underwear and spending weeks on all kinds of emotional and intellectual gymnastics for nothing. The lesson is, don't over think stuff.


Heather said...

I love your posts - they bring a smile everytime I read one!

Rena said...

Miss Cynthia - please keep writing this it is so so great to be able to keep up with you this way.

Michele Hush said...

My live-in substitute mother was named Pearl, but I don't think she called me "Miss." If she had, I would have been just as confused as you were. I was confused enough as it was about why she couldn't go to the local Baptist church (it was "for white people").