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Fleecie's gift

The dark clouds were threatening, and suddenly the rains came heavily at eight o'clock in the morning. I wondered whether our new cleaning woman would come in such a downpour and such darkness, for morning had imperceptibly turned into night.

The doorbell rang and I hurried to answer it, but almost simultaneously the door opened, and a tall, pleasant, smiling black woman in starched cotton entered with a small, tawny boy of about four holding onto her skirt.

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''I'm here. My name is Fleecie Cubbard. What would you like me to do?''

The simplicity of her statements set the tone. I suggested the downstairs to begin with.

''We'll take the house in stride,'' I said. ''It's not the most interesting work. But it must be done, and it still seems to fall to the lot of woman to do it.''

Fleecie smiled. ''It's good work'' was all she said.

She worked diligently all the morning, interrupting only once for a cup of milk for her boy, who kept close to her though not interfering with her work. Some marbles which he endlessly fingered in and out of a tiny cloth bag, and the sight of his mother, kept him content.

Fleecie was light of hand and foot. Like King Midas with the golden touch, everything her hands touched became clean and polished - a gentle and happy gift.

There was little time to talk. I did not pry into her world, feeling that like me, she needed her own mental and emotional privacy. Nor did Fleecie invade my world. However, the silence between us was serene, each of us accepting the other and establishing a kind of trust. This rich quietude gave a new dimension to what could have been an ordinary or even a weary day. Somehow my senses were razor-honed to a heightened awareness, and Fleecie's calmness was tinged with a joyousness that was palpable. Her competence was undeniable. She did not hurry, nor disdain any of the work. The broom and mop were tools she appeared to hold with respect. Her attitude was one of enjoyment of work and accomplishment. It was soothing to be with her. I began to wish that the day would not end too soon. And I began to fantasize.

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What would happen if her kind of gift spread out to include all of America - each home and surrounding area cleaned and swept of all debris? Every ghetto, every slum area, every tightly populated portion of our cities cleaned and maintained as if each one of us cared and worked with the same dedication as Fleecie.

In the old cities of Europe, I have seen flower pots on the narrow balconies, and flower boxes at the windows. With a little earth, a few seeds and water, even the old tenements, old apartments, and very old houses become alive and bright with flower power. I wanted all this for our cities too.

Fleecie's voice broke into my dreams, and I was startled out of my fantasizing. How can we turn the fantasy into the reality of an ideal - a wish of cleanliness, order, and beauty for all of America?

''I have a baker's dozen of children, but when I go out to clean other people's homes it's like going on an outing. I like to see their homes and things - it makes me see new things.''

''Fleecie, I hope you like it here, because I want you to come again and again.''

''I will come as long as you need me,'' she promised with half a smile.

I began to realize why Fleecie was so extraordinary, and that I would look a long time before I would find anyone to measure up to her.

The day ended, and the two left as suddenly as they had appeared.

Standing in the middle of the living room, I could only account for the impression she had left by seeing her as simply and divinely big enough to be selfless, and concerned with helping people as much as she could.

I realized that Fleecie must have become a keen observer of the human drama, for she had come to terms with life, and saw clearly that in essentials she had gotten out of life all that anyone else had gotten out of it. But that her gift to life exceeded the giving of others because for her it came first.

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