You weren’t like any other mother in the neighborhood. That caused me some embarrassment, for I wanted you to imitate the moms I saw on television, who, ironically, were white. Your quiescent moods seemed so unmaternal to my teenage mind, so I was too embarrassed to invite people to our home.
Yes, you were an enigma to me, because you didn’t complete the actions of mothers, like cooking every day or hugging and speaking words of love. You weren’t disagreeable; you just seemed to live in another world, one that we weren’t invited to share.
But you went to work every night, the graveyard shift, to provide a roof over our heads and food that we learned to cook for ourselves. You did manual labor, the only employment that you could find for a black woman without an education.
But I knew that you could have been more, if you had been born in a different era, for you spent all day, each day, when you weren’t sleeping, working your crossword puzzles, books of them after books in ink, which let me know that you were really smart.
In your last years, you were a doting grandmother, and the kids and I still laugh when we remember that you were right, that you truly weren’t “domestic.” You told me that when I was a teenager, and I thought it meant that you never wanted to be my mother.
But then I grew up and found myself raising all of your grandchildren, my sister’s two daughters and two sons and my biological son. Motherhood was a constant round of doing, loving, and worrying. However, I was fortunate to be born in the time of Affirmative Action, a platform that allowed me to find good-paying jobs wherein I could use my intelligence.
Every Mother’s Day, as I watch the tributes to mothers, I think of you. You were different, yes, but you were my mother, the first person to hold me and dry my tears. More importantly, as I have grown older and learned of the life you lived as a black, uneduated woman, living in the South, I have come to appreciate all that you did for me.
You instilled in me a strong work ethic, and you allowed me the freedom to read books and my Bible, never telling that too much learning would drive me crazy, as some of my contemporaries’ parents did. You never told me that a knight in shining armor would once day come and whisk me away from poverty. Instead, you let me know that I had to work hard for myself.
And when you saw me lying on a hospital bed beaten and battered by a boyfriend, you told the doctors to take care of me, because you were on your way to “take care” of him. Thankfully, you didn’t find him. That was the day that I knew that you were like other mothers in your love for me and your willingness to do anything to keep me safe.
No, you never spoke words of love, but you lived them. Today, I send you flowers in Heaven, thankful for the woman God chose to parent me. He knew that I would need to know how to live in this difficult world without you for much of my life, and you were perfect for the assignment.
Happy Mother’s Day, Eloise! You were one of a kind! I still love you so much. Thanks for the lessons on life!