Hattie has been our maid for twenty years and we feel that she is part of our family. The purpose of this conversation is to see if we can figure out when Hattie joined our circle of people and what brought her to us. Ike Heller
EDISON, NEW JERSEY, MAY 10, 2013: "I got the job through my Aunt Anniebell Woolridge, Hattie recalled. "She was working with Mrs. Heller for a while after Ruth, the Hellers' old housekeeper, got sick and passed away. Ruth had worked for the Hellers for many years and she helped raise their children.
"Anniebell worked for the Hellers for about a year. Then she moved to Virginia and I started working for Mrs. Heller during the Jewish New Year holidays in September. That was about twenty years ago, when Peter, Hollie's baby was born.
"Mrs. Heller used to make a lot of dishes for the holidays and I helped her. I think it was Yom Kippur when we made stuffed cabbage. We put the cabbage rolls in the fridge and I'll never forget that time.
"Mrs. Heller's mother, Ann, always came from the shore, bringing her platter of homemade gefilte fish and she prepared it here at the house.
"Since that time, I got to eat a lot of Jewish food, and I love gefilte fish. They had big parties. Mrs. Heller’s brother Charlie and his wife and children all used to come and have dinner.
"At Passover, I cooked hardboiled eggs and the shank bone for the Passover platter. A couple of times the egg busted, so I had to re-do it. We also made the charoses with apples, chopped nuts and wine."
‘THEY FEEL LIKE MY FAMILY’
Hattie works for Helaine and Ike on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
"I have worked for all of the Heller daughters in all of their houses," she said. "I worked for Hollie in Bridgewater and I have served dinner at Laurie's house. I also worked for Mr. Heller's sister Micki. I cleaned her house many times.
Hattie babysat for the Heller grandchildren and great-grandchildren. "The Hellers are very nice people and they feel like my family," she said.
"I know all the grandchildren, and I have seen them grow up. Carrie, (Audrey's daughter, and the oldest granddaughter), was about seven or eight years old when I started working for Mr. and Mrs. Heller. Adam (Laurie’s son) used to sit next to Mr. Heller during the Passover service."
Hattie was invited to Mrs. Heller's 70th birthday party at Tavern on the Green in New York. "I got to meet a lot of the family there," she said.
According to Ike, Hattie is learning to speak Yiddish, but Hattie doesn’t agree.
"I’ve been with them for so long and he wanted me to speak Yiddish or Jewish, or whatever," she said. "But I don't know how to speak none of it."
"Can you understand any Yiddish?" I asked.
"No," Hattie said, laughing.
But, according to Ike Heller, "She will."
"Can you tell Ike what your son said about The Help, I asked Hattie.
"There was a movie and a book called The Help, and one of the actresses won an Academy Award for her part," Hattie explained. "One day, my son came in the house and he asked me if I had ever seen a movie named The Help.
"I said, ‘No, but I heard of it.’
"He said, ‘Well, one day and I'm gonna buy that tape and I want you to sit down and look at it, because you remind me of that black lady who plays that part.’
"So after I looked at the movie, my son asked, ‘Did you like it?’ and I said, ‘Sure enough, it reminds me of me and Mr. Heller.’"
The Help, a New York Times best seller by Kathryn Stockett, came to vivid life through the powerful performances of an ensemble cast, including Academy Award nominated actress Viola Davis, who plays a housemaid named Aibileen. The Help is an inspirational and courageous story about very different, extraordinary women in the 1960s South who build a friendship around a secret writing project – one that breaks society’s rules and puts all at risk. It is a timeless story filled with poignancy, humor and hope.
"The reporter who wrote the story interviewed the cast just as I’m interviewing you and Hattie now," I explained to Ike, "and they told her stories about things that happened with people they worked for.
"It was a beautiful movie and Hattie is just like the star of that movie."
LONG BEACH ISLAND AND THE PICKLE BARREL POOL
"I used to go back and forth to Long Beach Island," Hattie recalled. "We stayed from Friday until Sunday afternoon. I sat out on the deck near the pickle barrel with Mrs. Heller. She did her needlepoint and I read the paper and we talked.
"Then Mr. Heller came out with his swimming trunks on and he jumped in the water – in the pickle barrel. He would say, ‘Go put your swimming trunks on, jump in the water and swim.’
"But I couldn’t do that. I don’t like swimming. I’m afraid of water.
"The grandkids used to come down also. Grandchildren Liza, Adam and Carrie would get in the water and swim.
"Laurie and I used to get out and walk on the beach and we all had a good time."
"Where did you get the pickle barrel swimming pool?" I asked Ike.
"We owned a building next to H.J. Heinz in Harrison, and they had these wooden barrels that they kept sour pickles in, because the pickles reacted with metal barrels. They told me where they got them and I bought them for some of our houses. The pool is 8-feet deep and 20-feet in diameter."
"So you must be a pretty good swimmer," I said to Ike.
"You have to dive into the water," he answered.
I said, "You can dive into the water, not me."
"I’ll throw you in," Ike replied.
"When we first came to New Jersey, a long time ago, my sister worked nights at Remco in Harrison," Hattie said. "They used to make toys and little black dolls on the assembly line.
"When I started working for Mr. Heller, he told me that he owned the Remco factory. I told him that back in the sixties, my sister used to work there and some of my friends worked there. Western
Electric and Remco were all located in that area, right across the bridge in Harrison."
‘ONE HAND WASHES THE OTHER’
"I enjoy working with Mr. and Mrs. Heller and for them," Hattie said. "Mr. Heller has helped me a lot. In 2005 he bought me a brand new 2005 car and he has helped me with my family.
"I felt bad when they stopped him from driving, but I’m relieved that they did. Now I don’t mind taking him back and forth. I feel that I should do things for him because of what he did for me. One hand washes the other. And whenever Mrs. Heller asks me to do things I’ll do them for her too.
"Mrs. Heller is a very nice, sweet and kindhearted person. She wants to help everybody and do for everybody. I watch out for her and whenever she wants to go places I take her."
Hattie and her husband Mizell have two children, two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. "When I started working for the Heller’s, my son Maurice was sixteen and my daughter Veronica was seventeen," she recalled.
"Both my kids went to Barringer High School in Newark. Veronica went to Ramapo College and Maurice went to Nutley Training School where he studied computers. Veronica is an accountant in Hawthorne, New Jersey and Maurice works at Max Camera in Springfield.
"My grandchildren are Laquavsha and MaQuayla and my great-grandkids are Khaden and Kassia."
Hattie’s husband Mizell sells fruit and vegetables.
"Mr. Heller always asks me to get him a watermelon," Hattie said.
‘SHE’S JUST CLOSE TO MY HEART’
"Tell me a little about Hattie," I asked Ike. Say whatever you want to say about her."
"I love her," Ike said. "I tell you, somehow or other I feel an attachment to her that I don’t have for many people. When Hattie steps back into my memory -- and my memory comes and goes -- I just continue to love her. And whenever she’s in the house I love her to pieces.
"To me, she’s just close to my heart. It’s an inner feeling."