Interviewing Mrs. Corrina Singer nee Washington
Mrs. Corrina Singer may be 85 but let me assure you the lady is still as bright as a button. But first allow me to provide a little background.
In the 1950’s Corrina Washington a young educated woman went to work as a housekeeper in the home of a white man called Manny Singer – a widower with a young apparently mute daughter. Recall the racially charged atmosphere of 1950’s Southern States of America and you’ll quickly understand what makes Corrina so special.
I managed to get an interview with Corrina at her daughter Meryl’s home in South Carolina.
Nanny Time Bomb: Hello Corrina, it’s so wonderful to meet with you today. Thank you for taking the time to …
Corrina: … like the tea? Damn that’s good.
It certainly is. Did you make it?
I most certainly did not. What’s the point in having children if you have to … (Chuckles) … although I make good tea.
Well this is pretty good.
Should be it’s my recipe.
(A pause as we sip tea) … So Corrina, I wanted to ask you about your time as a Nanny?
Nanny? I was never no goat (Laughs to herself, swats a fly). Nanny!
Excuse me I meant a …
I know I know … just playing with you … well now to begin with technically I was hired as housekeeper. Manny … that’s my deceased husband … was then recently widowed and … well he had this woman … took care of things around the kitchen … but (Chuckles) Lord could she (indicates drinking from a bottle) and I mean (indicates drinking from a bottle) and then there was Molly. Poor child couldn’t – wouldn’t – speak to nobody.
And you turned that all around didn’t you.
Somebody had to, child was suffering …
Yes but Corrina that was a pretty complicated situation.
(Waves her hand around) Ah complicated … everything now is so complicated. All Molly needed was some love without gloves on.
Molly is Manny’s daughter right?
That’s right, she was 7 when I came along …
And you said ‘love without gloves on’ what did you mean?
Yeah – like … real honest loving you understand? Like not being afraid to love. (Slams chair arm) Molly knew that I cared. That I wasn’t sneaking around seeking my own advantage. Plus everyone was scared witless around her.
Why would people be scared of Molly?
After her Mama died Molly stopped talking. She went inside her own shell, acted out. Everyone was scared of the child and the child knew it. Even Manny. He was afraid of his own child … can you believe that ? He was afraid … that he wouldn’t get her back. And he’d already lost his wife God rest her soul.
But you got Molly to talk.
(Waves hand) Ain’t nothing fancy baby, you use what comes natural, I used ice cream, you use what a child can relate to. Ice cream!
Yes but how did you use ice cream to make Molly speak?
(Rolls eyes) Played a game. I asked her what flavor ice cream she wanted by touching her nose. Kids love games, takes the steam out of things.
Now you know it was more than just doing that Corrina. Really …
I’m telling you that’s what I did … I mean the child was traumatized not stupid.
So what would you say to any Nanny today working with a child or children with … shall we say … ‘special needs’?
Special needs? Child – all needs are special!
Okay what would you say to any Nanny working with a child like Molly?
I’d say let your heart lead the way. You got to keep it real. Children know when you’re faking it. If you can’t be real then you may as well be in another line of work. Far as me and Molly is concerned I just fell in love with that child the moment I laid eyes on her. She’s my daughter you know?
That’s right. You married Manny right?
That’s right. Had children of our own, but I loved all my children the same. Now there’s a thing. Love the children you care for like they’re your own flesh and blood because that’s what you do. Anything less you just fooling yourself.
Thank you Corrina. One last thing, would you still work as a Nanny today? 2009?
(Smiles) Times are different. I always wanted to write music you know? In the 50’s it was harder for a colored woman. After I married Manny I wrote some songs. But I never did it for myself. If I were a young woman today I’d write my own music. (Waves back at one of her grandchildren who’s just pulled up in a car) I guess … I wouldn’t change much though … I loved Manny, he was a good man. I love Molly and I love my family. Being a Nanny can open doors to all kinds of joy. You just got to stay in that joy and … (Looks away into the distance)
… love without gloves on?
(Gives me a high five) You got it!