It has been nearly 20 years since my mom died. I don’t think I have ever not thought of her since. I remember her as a young, and beautiful woman, and I remember her as a middle-aged woman, still pretty and coping with the everyday struggles of rearing two children as a single mom.
I travel back in my mind to the days when I was a little girl and to my earliest memories of her. I can still see us sitting on the back porch steps of the house we lived in back in Williston, Florida, where I was born. Momma was teaching me the alphabets. There was no kindergarten for little colored children in rural Williston at that time. So, Momma was my first teacher.
I see her on my 10th birthday, preparing to give me a party and surprise me with shiny new patent leather shoes that she asked my friend Ruby, to break in for me.
And then I see her in my teen years, worried that she worked too hard. So, I tried as her daughter, to lighten the load for her. That meant I didn’t sleep in on Saturdays. There were clothes to wash (on a rub board), clothes to iron, and the house to clean. I wanted Mom to be proud of me, to know that I appreciated all the sacrifices she made for me and my brother.
If I got through with my chores in time, there were the two dimes on the dresser — movie fare for me and my brother to take in a good Western at the old Liberty Theater (We called it The Shack).
I remember Mom getting me dressed for my first date. And the motherly advice she gave to me: “Remember, you are a lady. So, act like one.”
Years later, I remember Mom as the mother of the bride.
That’s when all the neighborhood women came together, cooked the food for the reception, and made a fuss over me. Mom borrowed chairs from Range Funeral Home and placed them under the orchid tree, in the front yard of the apartment where we lived in Liberty Square Housing Project. It was a beautiful wedding. My Uncle Teddy served as “father of the bride” and my friend Thelmarie, was my matron of honor. Mom beamed with pride as she looked at me in my wedding dress.
My brother Adam, who was late to the wedding because he had to pick up his girlfriend, was taking a shower as Jimmy, and I said our vows. The guests in the living room could hear the water from the shower behind the closed bathroom door. I glanced at Mom. She was furious. I could hardly hold back my laughter. What a moment.
Mom with her grandchildren
I remember the delightful look on Mom’s face when she held her first grandchild for the first time. And years later, when that child (Ricky) was going through adolescence and Mom was going through menopause, I was going bananas just trying to keep the peace. By that time, I was a young widow with two sons, and we lived with Mom. There was never a dull moment in our house. I was constantly in the middle of the action, especially when Rick would hide behind a door and jump out, shouting “Boo!” just as Mom passed by. Poor mom. It is a wonder she didn’t suffer a trillion heart attacks, just being grandma to two rambunctious grandsons. Even so, I remember how she loved them.
It wasn’t easy trying to be mom to my sons when I never seemed to be doing it right in Mom’s sight. For example, when I was 10, I remember staying up late one night as Mom taught me to get the “cat faces” (wrinkles) out of the collar of the shirt I was ironing. Just when I though I’d gotten it right, Mom would inspect it and find another tiny catface. I’d have to start all over. “One day, you will thank me for this…” she would say. And one day, I did.
When I tried to teach my sons how to iron, it was a different story. “Lazy mothers have smart children,” Mom would say just out of my earshot. Rick, who was the ironing student at the time, knew Mom was on his side and thought a few tears would be enough to get him off the hook.
“Look, Ricky,” I said to him. “I am your only parent. You and your brother must learn to help.” To which Ricky, my male-chauvinist piglet would say, “I wish I had a sister so I wouldn’t have to do all these girly things.” My reply: “What makes you think that I would let a daughter of mine be a servant to you and your, brother? We are all in this together.”
And like my mom said to me, I said to him, “One day you will thank me for this.” And like his mom before him, one day he did.
‘Be a nurse or a teacher’
It was during the years that we lived with Mom that I went back to school. At first, I was going to become a teacher. While her dream for me was to become a nurse, Mom was content that I’d decided to become a teacher. She always worried about me as I was growing up. I loved the arts — writing, drawing, and singing. Looking back, I don’t ever remember Mom putting one of my pieces of art on display in our home, though. She loved to sing, and we did a lot of singing in the home as I was growing up, but she didn’t allow me to take the scholarship in voice I’d been awarded my senior year in high school.
It took me years to understand Mom’s actions about my future. She always said I was a dreamer. She wanted me to be practical and study a profession where I was sure to get a job. She only knew of one Negro singer at the New York Met and that was Marian Anderson. But she knew of too many starving Negro artists and writers. So, she would tell me, “Be a nurse or a teacher.” It took me years to understand that Mom didn’t want me to be disappointed. She knew that as a Negro, I would always be able to get a job as a teacher or a nurse.
When I changed my major to journalism, at the advice of the late Fred Shaw, I never told Mom. I needed a sitter for my children. And If I told her I was studying to be a journalist, she would not have watched my children. She would have said I was wasting my time. After all, Mom had never seen or heard of a Negro journalist at a white paper.
So, I never told her I’d changed my major. She learned the truth the day Larry Jinks, then the managing editor, hired me to be the first African American woman reporter for The Miami Herald. I don’t think there was a prouder mom in all of America. I believe that it was then that she realized that I took her seriously when she encouraged me to reach for the stars.
The years passed so swiftly, and before we knew it, Mom was a great-grandma, a title she wore like a crown of diamonds. She doted on her great-grandchildren. I was so thankful that she had lived long enough to wear the great-grandma crown.
Mom died peacefully on Dec. 13, 2002. I was sitting at her bedside. I looked at the face I had loved all my life, and she seemed to be smiling. I knew she was at peace.
So, Mom, on this Mother’s Day, as with all the others, I just want to say, “Thanks, Mom, for all your love and sacrifices. I miss you, and I still love you to the moon and back. Happy Heavenly Mother’s Day.”
Bea Hines can be reached at [email protected]