Wow, what a woman. She taught me about faith, and ensured at birth I'd never forget it. She was ol' school enough to teach me how to cook and to have manners, address adults with "Miss" or "Mister."
But she wasn't stuck in the old school. Couldn't be, not with a daughter like me, a daughter who read too much, observed too much and embodied a really old soul.
Funny thing is, she was also non-traditional, even though she was older than my friends' mothers (she had me at 40). I had a boyfriend at 15 and we were even allowed to go out to the movies. I never had a curfew, and this was before everyone had cell phones. And if I had a bedtime, it was before I can remember.
During the first week of eighth grade, I confessed to her that I didn't want to be in gifted anymore. I'd been in the program since 2nd grade and excelled, but with the suffocating pressure of adolescence, I was just exhausted of being isolated from the neighborhood kids I was bussed to Boca Raton with. I remember the pained expression on her face as she said okay. I don't know if it was because she hated to see me ditch advanced classes or if she sympathized with my teenage angst. (I ended up not quitting, but that's another story...)
She took my opinion and my feelings very seriously.
Long before folks got all Dr. Phil about raising kids, I don't remember Ma yelling at me. I don't even remember her being annoyed by my endless questions about every freaking thing. She never said a disparaging word about my dad, even though they'd been divorced---twice. He was very much a part of our lives. And if there was any attitude between them, I couldn't tell. I'm thankful for that.
There was a stereo in the headboard of her bed and she'd call for me when “Nightshift” by the Commodores came on. That was our song. Ma, my brother, and I lay in the big king-sized bed and watched The Arsenio Hall Show, even on school nights. Last movie we saw together was Ray; she was from Georgia and loved “Georgia On My Mind.” She used to wake us before dawn for the Easter sunrise service on the beach. Random memories...
She was so...much.
She passed away in 2005, my last semester of college. Fortunately, I was taking a workshop poetry class. Here is one of the several pieces I wrote during that period.
Love ya, Ma.
I know you’re in a better place
but are you here sometimes
riding along in the car
perched pleasantly on my steps
or peering over my shoulder as I bake
the Chewy Cheesecake you taught me to make?
are you omnipresent now
like a demigod of sorts
can you be here with me in Florida and
in the Bronx with Aunt Weavie
at the same time?
chillin’ with Jesus
which is cool
you deserve that
I just wonder if you reminisce
on things we used to do
times we shared. I mean
I’m sure they pale in comparison
to everlasting life, but
remember that time we missed our flight
from New York and had to stay
overnight at that Travelodge in Jersey?
It was on this tumultuous highway
that we crossed to get chili
and cornbread for dinner
it took you so long to muster
the nerve to hobble across that highway
I coached you from the other side—
“Come on Ma…after this truck…no wait! Okay, go, go, go!”
then we got back to the room
you spread out on one bed
and me on the other, and we watched
the lighting of the Rockefeller Tree on TV
do you still laugh about that?