Based on my childhood experience of growing up in the "Jim Crow" world of South Carolina, circa the 1940's and 1950's, Comfort Food, a novel based on a true story, is an examination of the lives of several women: Lottie, an African American Momma who has a Ph.D in making lemonade out of lemons, her precocious six-year old daughter, Bea, and Helen, a Jewish woman, who, having recently moved to Columbia, from "up North," needs help to take care of her four bedroom house.
The three meet when Bea convinces Lottie to knock on the back door of 'that nice lady's big white house with the green shutters," and fate takes its course; in a moment all of their lives are changed as Helen, listening to Bea's suggestion, "We was wondering if you needed some help. My Momma here's real good," responds, "You want to work here? I've been thinking about getting somebody."
Thus begins the 25-year relationship that is the foundation of this novel. Through the unfolding of the intimate and intense relationship between these three women, Comfort Food, explores the bigotry, racism, poverty and family abuse that were common, always concealed, elements of life in South Carolina. Bea and Lottie, due to their economic circumstances, were, like most, forced to keep quiet, to suffer at the hands of their white employers, and served as silent witnesses to the abuse their patrons doled out.
Enslaved to a life of drudgery, the AME church is one of the few places they find relief, spiritual sustenance and community, and is the foundation of their ultimate liberation. As the charismatic oration of Martin Luther King expands beyond his own congregation it reaches the ears of the congregation where Bea and Lottie are active members. The words they hear inspire them.
Especially Bea who, after getting pregnant at a young age—becoming a seeming disappointment to Lottie's high expectations—returns to school when her son, Randolph, begins his own education. Her mind expands with new horizons, she is open and excited by the possibilities, her dream to become a lawyer and her interest in political science add fuel to the fire and she quickly becomes engaged in the blooming Civil Rights Movement. Consequently her confidence grows, together with her ability to speak out about what she believes.
Meanwhile, the impact of the Rosa Parks and the Birmingham bus boycott, the bloody demonstrations in Alabama and Mississippi, and the Freedom Riders, ripple outwards, affecting the attitudes of the Whites, who become more acquiescing. As acceptance grows, with Black students entering schools and adults joining the rolls of registered voters, the Robinsons, members of the group of tolerant university professors supporting integration, must confront the impact of change when it hits home.
Bea, tired of the old ways with a lifetime of "yes Mas'er," proudly joins the 'sit-ins' at the Woolworth's lunch-counter, despite the risks. After some gentle persuasion, she even manages to convince Lottie to join her, and the two are surprised by the presence of a certain participant. Predictably, the three get arrested and are then 'rescued' by Mr. Robinson who must decide their fate.
Copyright © 2016 Susan T. Lindau