Mama made sure I had a home cooked meal before she went to work on the pm shift. I didn’t know what a Happy Meal at Mickey D’s was until I was a teenager. She also got up every morning before school to cook breakfast. Some days I ate buttermilk biscuits with sausage and eggs, other days I had cinnamon toast on whole wheat. Cereal was something I ate on weekends. She wasn’t one to get on educational kicks, Mama was a spiritual warrior. She always said, “your father may have book sense but I’ve got common sense.” Every Sunday morning my behind was in Sunday school. Later for Sunday morning worship, I had to sit still and listen to scriptures and parables and analogies that I couldn’t comprehend. There were Sundays when I found myself counting the number of lights inside the sanctuary, or how many people were in the choir. I giggled whenever Elder Mary caught the Holy Spirit and even counted the number of times she did. Talking and clowning during services was out of the question and when I slipped up, Mama had pincers for fingers. She pinched me so hard tears came to my eyes.
One day during my fifth grade year I was given a homework assignment. I had to ask my parents if they could remember their best Christmas from childhood. I started with my dad. He remembered being one of the first to get a really nice bicycle for Christmas. I asked my mother and she sat there quietly. “You don’t remember getting a doll?” I asked, “A pair of skates, anything?” She let out a tired sigh and a tear rolled down her cheek.
I wish I had known then what I know now. I never would’ve been insensitive. Had I known years later that My Grandfather, her father was the one who made decent money but never made his children’s welfare his priority, I would have never asked. I’m sure it brought back terrible memories of her coming home from school, the oldest girl, caring for her four younger brothers and sisters. My Grandmother worked at a dry cleaners, on her feet all day, starching and pressing white people’s clothes. Instead of my mother coming home to do homework she had to cook, clean and take care of her brothers and sisters.
She told me once she asked Grandmother if she could take piano lessons. They were only a nickel. Grandmother told her she didn’t have time that she needed to cook and clean up the house and care for her brothers and sisters. My mother wanted to play the saxophone. This time she asked Grandpa, who made money managing a blues band, running a nightclub, and hauling timber. He told her no, she needed to be home to cook and clean and take care of her younger brothers and sisters. She did all this caring, cooking and cleaning from the time she was eight years old and no one even bothered to give her a Christmas present.
So for her 50th birthday I made sure it would be a day that she would always remember. She flew first class on a 777 to New York City. Even when she was tipsy and giggling when she couldn’t grasp the buttons on her recliner, she conducted herself with class. I felt good doing something nice for her for a change.