The Tar Baby and the Tomahawk: Race and Ethnic Images in American Children's Literature, 1880-1939



MAMMY LOUIZA was a great woman; and although her cheek was as dark and withered as a prune, and she was old and fat, and often walked with a limp when she declared that the weather as seen out the nursery window "looked like it was fixin' to rain," and though she wore old-fashioned French-calico frocks and a plaid turban tied over her gray hair, there were four golden-haired little children who respectively pronounced her "be-yu-tiful," "boochiful," "booful," and "pwitty." This last, the wee Louise who called her "pwitty," was Mammy's pet; and although but three years old, she was clever enough to measure a new word inside her little mouth before daring to attempt it. On the particular occasion when she had watched the lips of her sisters and brother while they wrestled with the fascinating "beautiful " word, with results so various, she suddenly switched off, her merry eyes fairly twinkling as she did it, and said:

"I fink my Mammy's pwitty."

There was a little mischief in the "my," too, and for good reasons. It would never have occurred to you, perhaps, seeing the golden curls lying against Mammy's dark neck, that the wee maid Louise was her namesake, but such she was in truth. It was on a Christmas morning when the third little daughter arrived at the great house, during a snowstorm; and when, not long after, old Mammy trudged in, carrying one and leading two toddlers to the bedside to welcome the brand-new sister, the white mama raised her happy face from her pillow and said:

"This is to be your special little 'lady-baby,' Mammy dear, and we are going to let you name her, under one condition, and that is that you may not call her for her own mama."

The children's mother's name was Katharine, a name which was quite out of fashion in those days, though it has since come back, with all sorts of variations and spellings.

Well, when the mother had begun to speak, and Mammy understood that she was saying something special about her claim to this fresh babyling, her tender old heart was so touched that for fully a minute she could not be sure of her voice.

But after a little while, when joy and surprise had settled into a sweet pride and content, what do you suppose Mammy said?

"Is you for sho' in earnest, Missy?" She always called the children's mother Missy. "Is you gwine lemme name de new lady-baby, sho' 'nough?"

Here she stopped abruptly, as if she scarcely knew whether to go on or not, but only for a minute, and her old voice was not a whit timid when she said:

"I knows Louizy; hit's a ole black-skin name, an' ef I had'a' had chillen o' my own, borned to me,— an' air little gal-chile amongst 'em,— I couldn't'a' done no better 'n to glorify my name wid honest livin', an' pass it on to 'er— wid God's blessin'.

"But dis little lady-chile—dis little rosebud baby— I ain't nuver had no baby named arter me, but don't you think maybe we mought sort o' whiten up Louizy into Loueezy, ef you please, ma'am, or maybe into Louise? I knows dey been plenty o' quality white ladies wha' carried off dat name wid manners an' granjer."

So the wee "lady-baby" became Louise; and even if the loving mother had not liked the sweet name which has graced many a court, she would have been paid for her own disappointment in the old woman's delight.

Mammy's own black mother had named her Louiza long, long years before even the children's mother was born, and when she grew old enough and gentle and trustworthy enough
to take charge of the nursery at the great house, to be "Mammy" to its fair sons and daughters, she taught them to call her "Mammy Louizy."

"Lady-baby" was Mammy's own name for the daughter babes, the boy being " Junior Man."

Of course there were lots of dolls in the nursery. Think of three girl children with no end of doting relatives, and then, if you have any imagination, you can see the corner where all the [illustration - Mammy and Lady-Baby] dolls "lived." Here was even a tiny village with a street, if you please, and houses with dolls looking from their windows on either side— with trees here and there, and animals and back yards. There were dolls lying in cradles; some of these larger than the houses, of course, as is quite the thing in doll-town, while others sat idly in rows, dangling their feet wherever there was room.

But there were not so many dollies in Mammy's kingdom that any need be strangers. Each play-mother knew not only her own children, but had pleasant social relations with the entire village.

Baby Louise's favorite doll was one which had come all the way from Piffet's (pronounced Peefay) in New Orleans, which is almost the same as saying it came from Paris. It was the finest doll in the collection, because Mammy, who had insisted on paying for it with her own money, had dictated the order for the
very finest and best. She did not tell Louise about it until the dolly was daily expected by the Mississippi boat, which always brought beautiful things from gay New Orleans; but from the moment Louise knew she was coming she began to speak of all the other dolls as the "old dollies." She even discovered that the youngest had suddenly gotten through her teething, and had to be hurried into short dresses and put in a high chair at table beside her older sisters. And then "Mehitabel Gray's "Mama Edith and "Queen Clorinda's" Mama Daisy began to tease her just a little as to what the great new doll should be called.

"Nem you mind!" Mammy Louiza interrupted. "Wait till she sees her. Her wit'll find a name fitten for her. Don't you worry about dat!"

Mammy was a bit anxious that the expected doll should have a musical and high-sounding name, and she had even thought out Queen Victoria Princess Arabella as a pretty fair one to submit if the naming should come hard. But she bided her time.

When the box was at last opened upon the nursery floor, and the little Louise herself, fairly trembling with ecstasy, lifted the great doll out and saw her slowly open her wide blue eyes, she looked into Mammy's face and cried with delight:

" I'm named her, Mammy Wiza. She's named 'Pwincess Blue-eyes-a'!"

And when the other children laughed, exclaiming, "That's after Mammy Louiza!" the old woman's pleasure was so great that she forgot all about Queen Victoria Princess Arabella while she steadied herself to say: "I tell you, quick work goes on under dem yaller curls. De idee o' her namin' de baby arter its own eyes an' ole black me at de same time!"

It was a sweet little world, this nursery world where the black Mammy Louiza was chief ruler, for the frequent visits of the dear white mama were in consultation rather than in command.

Sometimes there were as many as three play-mamas rocking their play-babies to sleep at the early play-bedtime, which was properly before the real children's supper-hour; and at this time Junior Man, who was six, would generally be downstairs in the library with his papa while mama dressed for dinner.

And while Mammy Louiza moved about she would often chuckle to herself as she heard the play-mothers singing their dollies to sleep, and she knew they were echoing the old songs she had sung to them in turn. Particularly would she smile when she caught in the youngest voice, which had a way of wandering up in an uncertain key, the words "yady-baby" and "bye, oh bye, oh bye!" for the lady-baby song was Mammy's own favorite, and when supper was over, and the three elder ones were snugly in bed, after "Br'er Rabbit" and prayers and all the rest, the old woman took solid comfort in drawing her rocker near the waning fire, and singing her precious little namesake to sleep with this little lullaby.

She generally began with a brisk movement, jostling her chair to fit the mood of the wakeful child which she would entrap. But her tone would slowly soften until her crooning voice seemed drowsy enough to put even a stray cricket on the hearth to sleep.

The last stanza Mammy always sang, low and fervently, after her charge was sleeping, and she generally sang it with her eyes closed and face lifted, as if better to realize her heavenly vision.

Go to sleep, my lady-baby, please, ma'am!
Dream about de purty things—
Silky froths an' finger-rings
Fit to dazzle queens an' kings.
Take yo' pick, my pretty little lady-baby, please, ma'am!
Refrain: Don't be 'fraidy, baby,
Mammy's little lady-baby,
Bye, oh bye, oh bye.'
Go to sleep, my lady-baby, please, ma'am!
Angels waits to fly wid you
All de heavenly dreamlan' th'ough,
Twix' de stars an' up de blue—
Sail away, my lily one, my lade-baby, please, ma'am!
REFRAIN: Don't be 'fraidy, baby, etc.
Go to sleep, my lady-baby, please, ma'am!
Little prince wid yaller hair
Waitin' for my chile somewhere
Whilst she's growin' tall an' fair;
Sleep an' grow, my co'tly little lady-baby, please, ma'am!
REFRAIN: Don't be 'fraidy, baby, etc.
Go to sleep, my lady-baby, please, ma'am!
Walk in dreams wid angels white,
Rainbow-dressed an' crowned wid light;
Smile an' Mammy'll know de sight—
Don't forgit to tell 'em 'bout old darky-mammy, please, ma'am!
REFRAIN: Don't be 'fraidy, baby, etc.
Tell 'em, yas, oh tell 'em, tell 'em, please, ma'am!
Tell 'em Mammy's black an' ole,
Human sins is on 'er soul,
But she gyards de chillen's fol'—
Tell 'em Gord done trus' 'er wid dis lady-baby, please, ma'am!
REFRAIN: Don't be 'fraidy, baby, etc.
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