When I was growing up my parents had a housekeeper named Odessa.   She was a tall and stately-looking Black woman,  and I adored her.

In the mornings before my mother left for work Odessa arrived,  made sure I finished my breakfast,  and walked me the few blocks to school.   And at 3:00 she’d be there to walk me home,  and I’ll  regale her with all that happened in school that day.

Our Bronx house had three stories – my father’s medical office was on the first floor,  and our living quarters were on the two floors above that included  the finished attic where I slept.   Between appointments my dad took a midday break and came upstairs for the lunch Odessa always had waiting for him.

And Odessa cleaned home and office  and laundered,  and in my mind’s eye still see her carrying a laundry basket down to the basement,  bending a bit to accommodating her height as she descended those rickety steps.  We had a washing machine down there,  but no dryer and Odessa would hang the wet laundry on two clotheslines my dad had strung from wall to wall.  (See My Beloved Basement)

And days when I was sick and home from school it was Odessa who cared for me,  and I remember her carrying trays of food and bowls of oatmeal or her homemade chicken soup up to my attic bedroom.   And because  I loved  tomatoes she always cooked one in the soup.

Odessa was active in her Harlem church and one day when I was 7 or 8 she proudly told my parents that her congregation had taken a step uncommon for the time and had appointed her – a woman – as deacon.   She was to be ordained that Sunday and she invited us to her church for the ceremony.

The sights and sounds at the Baptist service were quite different from those at our synagogue’s services,  and I watched transfixed as Odessa,  in her beautiful deacon’s robe,  knelt in that sacred space for the laying on of hands.

And to my child’s sensibility I thought the beatific smile I saw on Odesssa’s familiar face was just for me.

Dana Susan Lehrman 


  • A lovely description of your early life remembered through childhood eyes. Our memories – a place in which we dwell more and more often, still putting together the jigsaw of things we didn’t quite understand at the time or need to, now brought to the surface as precious mineral.

  • Your story brought back memories of a lady that my father had hired to take care of my mom because he felt that raising two boys me was too much for mom. But in reality, I’m sure he was afraid that he would have to do some work with us. Her name was Alice. She lived in the basement in our house in Bayside And she was French Canadian. Two things I really remember from her was that she was an avid Montréal Canadiens hockey fan and would always say how much better they were than the Rangers. She also smoked a lot. We remained friends for years after we all were grown all the way into my 20’s During expo 67 in Montreal we visited her summer cottage up in the Laurentian mountains. It was primitive, no electricity no indoor plumbing but we loved it of course being college guys as long as she had some good Molson beer we were happy thanks Dana for re-kindling those memories.

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