It was later in life that I got hold of this photo of my mother. There was something magical about this picture that made all the elements of my mother and our relationship expand into moments of sadness, shame, love and joy and pain, she was all of this to me. Though we had a wonderful and deeply trusting relationship, I remember a time when I was ashamed of my mother because she was overweight. I was only 6 or 7 years old when I felt this way, and I can’t for the life of me understand where such a horrible feeling emerged in a child of my age.
We spent an entire year in Bermuda once back in the early sixties, she had even enrolled me in the English school there, but I hated it because I felt weird about wearing a uniform, and the teachers were strict and because I complained she took me out of that school and enrolled me in the American school located at the Naval Base where she met my stepfather. On one occasion the school was hosting a Maypole Dance and we were told to invite our parents, but I was ashamed of my mother being fat and so I invited a friend of hers instead and got away with it. I remember that as if it were a bad dream I had, and though I don’t walk around with this fact punching holes in my head, whenever a moment arises that I feel proud of my mother, this memory also accompanies.
I think in so many ways I was angry about her and my father not being together, and because I didn’t have him to confront, I took it out on her, all I had was my mother and so I blamed her even though I never openly admitted it to her. But I think in many ways she knew because she would
often ask me to forgive her, not in a direct way eye to eye, but as she passed by me or were having a conversation with someone about something, the asking me would be a side note. And I never knew what she was talking about, so if I were blaming her for my father’s absence I had no conscious reality of it other than through my actions which I can see now as an adult looking back.
My mother protected me, kept me close and even included me in adult functions. When she first got a job in California working for a convalescent hospital, she was always so proud when I showed up at her work, she wanted all her friends to admire her little boy.
Growing up in the black community of the lower middle class, the women were extremely attached to the children who were considered pretty or cute. A black woman cared more about the texture of the child’s hair and the color of its skin, these attributes were more important than an education or his or her character. The women would go through extremes to see the child clothed handsomely, hair cut or styled neatly, and that the child recognized that this feature was the greatest testament to his or her existence.
I was 11 when I took my first job working at Golden Gate Fields cleaning stalls at the race track. I loved horses so much that I worked before and after school for $5/day. With this money I was able to buy my mother little gifts and every time I did, it made me feel great, and so all I wanted to do was please my mother so that I could get more of this feeling. But my mother was afraid of affection; every time I came to hug and kiss her she cringed as if it were an awful thing to do, but I didn’t understand this at the time, nor did I feel it was because of me, I discovered later in life it was because of her mother. And when I was able I watched all my mother’s family and noticed the absence of physical affection.
I often wondered how many people are truly honest about the relationship with their mother. Everyone seems to go through life pretending they had the perfect family; there is no perfect family, but there is an understanding of self in relation to the family you are a part of. We are firstly individuals shaped by those close to us, but a closer look at self can reveal the true likes and dislikes of character and behavior we possess. My mother made great efforts to find a fit in this life, and growing up I could see all the changes she underwent. My mom was married, had a boyfriend, worked hard, got a college degree, ate lots of food, took care of her kids, drove a fancy car, helped the poor and the homeless, and even became a Baptist Minister before taking on dementia. I remember her unintelligible babbling and how her last intelligible words before she died was: “Where is Bruce?”
I loved my mother so much, but I will admit that love was an unfamiliar topic, though I am glad that when I had my son I was able to freely cast upon him all the love I wanted to cast upon my mother. I wanted her to know that I knew she loved me even when she didn’t know how to show it.