I had the pleasure of channeling one of Odessa’s old friends today. He was a tall and wiry black man who went by the nickname of Skeeter. He didn’t tell me his real name because he said, “Miss Dess don’t know me by nothing else.”
He took care of Odessa’s lawn and later her swimming pool from the late 1960’s through just before he crossed in early 1980. “Helped them build that pool,” he says. “Made sure they did right by Mr. Graham and kept them boys in line round Miss Dess.”
His daughter was a cleaning lady at the hospital where Carmella worked as a nurse in the ER. When Carmella started working as a mid-wife she taught Milly how to be her assistant and paid her good. “That Carmella was one fine woman,” he says. “Pretty and smart and so good to my family, she was.”
Odessa tells me Skeeter was a bit sweet on Carmella.
“Not than anything ever come of it,” he adds. “Carmella too good a woman for the likes of me.”
One hot summer day in 1971 Odessa was out splashing around in her pool, and according to Skeeter, “not looking after that that little girl of hers. Carmella always asked me to keep an eye on that baby. Amalie would have been about three months away from turning two, so Dess probably shouldn’t of had her on a floatie in the pool.
“Anyways, after I done cleaned up her yard she asked me if I wanna go swimming with em,” he says. “I told her I made whole lot of them pools, but I ain’t ever gone swimming outside the bay and sides I had to get home to my grand babies cause Millie supposed to go help Carmella birth a baby any time now. She told me to go home and get them so’s they can go swimming too. I told her that be right nice of her, but we ain’t got no proper swimsuits and besides we don’t want to get in her way.”
“Miss Dessie, she hop right out of that pool and say she gonna go buy us all swimsuits. Asking what size the girls wear. She wasn’t having me tell her no. She go in get in that fancy convertible of hers, just leave her baby a floating.”
“That Dessie, she sweet as can be, but someone’s I don’t think she right in the head. She sure did love her snakes.”
“Skeeter,” she always say, “Don’t you bother my snakes. Come get me and I’ll get them out of your way while you cut the grass.”
“Went and got Carmella and she got the baby and told me to go on home and get Millie and the grand babies cause if Miss Dess wants us to go a swimming, we better just go along and swim with her.”
“We gets back and Miss Dessie done bought them both pretty yellow bathing suits and big old beach towels with daisy’s all over them. Them girls had a ball, splashing round with Miss Dessie. Carmella made us all mater sandwiches and we had tater chips and soda pop. Had ourselves a right fine party.”
“Miss Dessie was pretty as could be when she smiled and laughed. She told me to bring the girls every time I cut the grass so’s they can swim with her and that baby.”
“I just wanted them to watch Amalie,” Dess says, like it was no big deal.
Both Millie’s daughter went on to nursing school thanks to Carmella’s encouragement and help in paying their tuition.