They say you should give people their flowers while they are still here to enjoy them. I agree with this sentiment, though I have not always been the best at it. Sometimes life gets busy and you forget to remember to call home to talk to your mom as often as you used to. Sometimes we simply need to slow down and realize the people we love are not always going to be around for us to take for granted. That became painfully apparent earlier this year when a dear friend from high school passed away and we had let years go by without seeing each other. Well, this is my way of showing my mom, who is turning 81 this week, how much I love and miss her. I want her to know, I think of her often even if I don’t call or come home as frequently as I should.
I have wonderful memories of my mom growing up and I also have some that are not as memorable. Nobody is perfect and I often wonder why we humans expect out parents to be. I remember as a child thinking my mom was superhuman, like nobody could hurt her and she was invincible. As I got older I realized she was putting on a facade to allow me to be a child without worrying about how we were going to survive. Let me tell you a little bit about my mom, and keep in mind this is from my point of view, not hers, nor her employers, nor friends and especially not my siblings. My older siblings have a different perception of my mom, because I was the only one of her seven children to spend years alone with her during my formable years. I got to see her at some of the most vulnerable times in her life, and watched as she conquered each of them.
Big Thel, the nickname her kids gave her behind her back, was larger than life in her young days. A vibrant personality mixed with a dramatic flair caused people to gravitate towards her. Gossip was one of her favorite pass times and she did it well. Her laugh rang throughout the house every night as she got up to speed on what was going on with the people she knew. Before I was born, she met a very nice humble lady named Joyce Adderton, aka Mrs. A, and they were friends for well over 30 years until Mrs. A passed away. I could not tell my story of my mom without mentioning Mrs. A because she was a huge part of our lives. The two of them were like greens and cornbread, they were good on their own, but were delicious together.
During my childhood Big Thel was a beautiful, towering woman. Standing at six feet tall, she ruled with an iron fist. Raising six children, five of them girls, was no easy task, but she used her wit and natural attributes to make a way for us. She was charming where men were concerned, and of course being easy on the eyes worked to her advantage. She was not one of those girly girls, but she did wear wigs, and was sharply dressed every time she left the house. If fact she instilled in us the importance of looking your best in public. Till this day I shudder when I see women wearing hair rollers and scarves in public. There is no way we would ever be allowed to leave the house like that. No one to wear makeup, her skin glowed as she rocked her natural beauty most days. I do however remember watching her put on makeup when she went out on the town or to church. I thought she was the most beautiful woman in the world.
Now, ask anyone in my family and they will tell you my mom spoiled me rotten. I am inclined to agree I was spoiled, but I rebuke the label rotten. Rotten implies that I have not regard for others and that simply is not the case. I will say being spoiled is a great way of life, and I would recommend it to anyone. As the baby of the family, I was usually under foot where mom was concerned. I wanted to be around her at all times. It made me sad when she would leave me to go to work or out with her friends or my dad. When I was really young, my dad was in the military and served in Vietnam. There was a big chunk of time that he was away fighting in the war. I had no sense of time back then so I am unsure how long he was away, but I do remember him not being home. With him being gone, mom seemed to work more, leaving me with my siblings for care.
We moved a lot when I was a child because my dad was in the military. I think the best thing about being the youngest in the family was the fact that I was too young to remember most of the moving drama. There were no friends to leave behind and I actually enjoyed starting new schools. One of the times we were getting ready to move I was having issues with a teacher at my school. I was in kindergarten and there was a little girl named Mary Jane who sat next to me. Mary Jane liked to talk when we were supposed to be reading and the teacher thought it was me talking. The teacher has the nerve to walk up to me and smack me in the mouth. This was back when corporal punishment was rampant in schools, but my mom did not play that. NOBODY hit her children except her and she was not having it. When my mom learned of the punishment I received at school I thought she was going to lose her mind. The next day as I was sitting in class afraid to move for fear I would be punished for something I had not done, I looked up and saw my mom standing in the doorway. She did not make eye contact with me, but I stared at her with eyes begging for her to take me home. I hated being in that school because the teacher was mean. I watched as mom beckoned for the teacher to come outside of the classroom. What ensued next would ingrain a sense of worth in me, as wrong as it may seem by today’s standards. I watched through the window in the classroom door as my mom confronted the teacher about her behavior the day before. The teacher must have said something out of the way because the next thing I knew my mom grabbed the lady by her lips and smacked her in the mouth almost simultaneously. I couldn’t believe my eyes, my mom then opened the door and shoved the teacher back into the room and left without another word. That one event showed me I should stand up for myself and those I loved, and never allow anyone to violate me.
As an adolescent I learned to be strong and independent. She taught me I should always have my own life and not follow everyone else. The way she taught me this was not deliberate, but was the result of her trying to make me join organizations my older sisters enjoyed, like the girl scouts, or play specific sports like softball or cheer leading. I never wanted to join those activities, but preferred instead to hang around my big brother James. We shared the same interests like playing with cars and army men and playing football and basketball. There were times when my mom told me, “Girls don’t do that”. Her words made me want to rebel from society and I chose to be different from what society expected of me. This was a lesson my mom never intended to teach me, but I learned it anyway.
The most memorable lesson my mom taught me was in my teens. You know teenage girls and their moms usually don’t get along and my mom and I were no different. We had our good days and bad days, but I always respected her and usually did what she told me to do. My mom was pretty lenient when it came to my dress code because I was a good girl. During the hot summer months, I liked to wear tank tops and mini-skirts, the fashion at the time for girls my age. I was well developed by then, and looking back did not know what to do with my body. I was naive not realizing that short skirts attract attention from men; I innocently chose the mini-skirts for fashion and to keep cool. One afternoon I came home complaining about a couple of guys that had been harassing me. They decided I looked good to them and began following me, whistling, and the typical cat calling. As a teen I was awkward when it came to anyone bringing up the word sex, let alone being treated like a piece of meat. I became enraged and went home to tell my mom. She had this look on her face like she knew this day was coming, and she took me by the hand, led me into the bathroom, and stood me in front of the mirror. Then she told me something I remember to this day when making decisions on what to wear. She said look at yourself, look at what are you wearing. You are not a child anymore and when men see you they think about one thing. It’s up to you to show them you are either a respectable lady or you are a fast girl. Men will treat you according to how you dress. If you want respect you have to dress like you are respectable. At that she walked out of the bathroom leaving me to absorb her words. It did not stop me from wearing skirts, but the really short minis were out. I decided then and there I would dress for the attention I wanted to receive, which was respect.
My mom has continued to teach me important life lessons like this throughout my life, as most mothers do. However, I must say mom’s unique views on life and her life experiences growing up made the lessons a little unconventional. She was always very dramatic and usually included profanity and often times violence. It was a different time and society still accepted the spare the rod spoil the child manner of raising children. Even though I did not enjoy the spankings, I know they were done out of love and I feel they helped me. I learned to take the lessons from her teachings and leave the drama and pain behind. So now you have just a little taste of my mom, from my point of view.
Today I honor my mom for her birthday. I want her to know how much I love her and how much I appreciate all of the sacrifices she made for her family. For a woman who never had a lot of money, she was able to make her children feel special on holidays and she made sure we never went hungry and we were respectable members of society. I want to thank her for being a great mom and for being the biggest influence on my life. Thank you mom and I love you more than these words can express.