Odessa by
(304 Stories)

Prompted By Ceremony

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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’d regale her with all that happened at 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 I still see her carrying a laundry basket down to the basement,  bending a bit to accommodate 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 bringing 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 she proudly told my parents that her congregation had taken the step uncommon for the time and appointed her – a woman – as deacon.  She was to be ordained that Sunday and she invited us to 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 Odessa’s face was just for me.

Dana Susan Lehrman

Profile photo of Dana Susan Lehrman Dana Susan Lehrman
This retired librarian loves big city bustle and cozy country weekends, friends and family, good books and theatre, movies and jazz, travel, tennis, Yankee baseball, and writing about life as she sees it on her blog World Thru Brown Eyes!

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Tags: Deacon, Baptist church
Characterizations: moving, well written


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    That ceremony must have been fascinating, Dana. So different than anything you had ever witnessed.

  2. Jim Willis says:

    Dana, what a wonderfully crafted story about Odessa and her ultimate ordination as a deacon in her church! I found your experiences with Odessa similar to ones with a housekeeper we had as children: Sadie Pollard. Mom invited Sadie to occupy the spare bedroom and become our live-in, which she did. I still remember her banana cream pies!

  3. Laurie Levy says:

    What a lovely tribute to Odessa. You were lucky to have her in your life.

  4. Suzy says:

    Wonderful story about Odessa and how she helped raise you. She really was a member of your family. But I can imagine how that ordination ceremony in the Baptist church would have been quite a surprise for a little Jewish girl.

  5. Khati Hendry says:

    It was wonderful that you got to see Odessa in her world, not just in yours, and could appreciate even more the remarkable person she was.

  6. Dave Ventre says:

    It’s often fascinating to see behind the curtain into the lives of people we know in only one, circumscribed setting.

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