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Something about my Mother…
My life consists of a set of wishes. (1) Unity of Family, (2) Never Quit, Never Give up, (3) Be Honest with Yourself, and (4) Accept Yourself. These are not all the wishes I have but they are at the core of my human existence. Every facet of my life begins with this framework and the credit of this paradigm goes to my Mother.
My desire of a close-knit family comes directly from childhood. Growing up poor on Chicago’s south side in the 60’s and 70’s, my memories are similar to thousands like myself who was part of the ‘Great Migration.” As Latino immigrants flood America today in search of a better life so too did Blacks in the 50’s.
Their mass exodus from the swelter heat of Jim Crowism, racism, discrimination, and lack of decent employment opportunities drove herds of them to cities like Chicago, Detroit, and New York. As African wildebeest and zebras travel the Serengeti for water and grazing annually, so too Blacks went north for respite and redemption. Thousands in search of the America dream flooded the South and West side of Chicago changing the demography overnight.
Chicago, Sweet Old Chicago
Some found their dreams and some like my Mother continued their nightmare, as a single pregnant teen she left the south as to disguise family shame and not for greener pastures. The shame of teen pregnancy was deeper then grown Black men being called, “Boy” or chronic physical beatings Black women suffered from Black husbands, boyfriends and fathers in the south. A pregnant teen was considered an obtuse figure and given a train ride with their “mistake” out of town.
In this tiny apartment lived a single Mother of 6, a dog, mice on occasions, monthly visits from welfare social workers reminding her how detrimental a husband would be to her receiving benefits and a big white-book with a big white Jesus on her dresser. We were pathologically dysfunctional from the beginning.
My Mother was 13, uneducated, single and thrust into one of the many fiercely-segregated neighborhoods of Chicago (Englewood) to fend for herself. She had no role models that I knew, her Mother, my grandmother (Dorthy) a chronic alcoholic did not give much hope to life.
An All-American Bad Ass,
Oh, she was in the “shit” no doubt; her daily anthem, how do I feed and clothe my children. A miserable view from the eyes of a child. It however was there I understood family unity; although admittedly by the dysfunctions; I learned what unity can prevailed against.
She was the All-American 60’s Black Ghetto woman, five children hanging on her tities wherever she went, (My last sibling would come later when she married) she had amazing personal and physical strength as a young Mother. I realized early her physical strength; one of her pet peeves was for us to always call her mommy, never by her first name, “Ann.” I was quickly enrolled in a apprentice program of Black cultural Do’s and Don’t,s by my teacher, “Ann.”
In 1967, I learned that not only was it a cultural taboo to call her by “Ann,” but unforgivable to do it in front of her friends. One night in our tiny apartment we shared with her two sisters and my cousins, I somehow wondered into a “grown folks” conversation (another cultural no-no) and somehow injected the word “Ann” into the open atmosphere.
Do What I Say
I did not know there was a different in hand preference as a child, you do not notice which hand a person uses most it’s not important as a child. Well I discovered my Mother was left-handed, a southpaw, and after the unforgettable stinging stop in my mouth I never lost that knowledge. She slapped the “Shit” out of me, I feel it like it happened yesterday; her hands were liken to a champion boxer, fast, strong; I never saw it coming. As I staggered away dizzy and discombobulated, I never called my mother “Ann” again, or at least where she could hear me. (I was a rascal.)
On occasions her instructions were met with a slow response or a disrespectful non-verbal gesture, her radar picked up the activity, her missile disguised as a left-hand was launched before the combatant took another step. Man down! Medic!
As my wounded sibling or me raced for cover, for you learned not to retreat was also a form of disrespect, she then would unleash “Hell.” Whatever object at her nearest disposal was applied to your disrespectful “Black Ass” as she would shout angrily…usually my aunt or grandmother would administrated respite to us soon after however.
comment from the author…
…I loved my Mother’s strength…no matter how dysfunctional it looked to the outside…inside of it was my salvation.