The memories I have of my mother can be counted on ten fingers; try as I might, there's no need for counting toes…she didn't live enough years for me to remember more. Still shots in albums assure me there are more–and I'm thankful for each one–but that doesn't mean I remember.
I cling to these Ten. There's a lesson in each.
Born in the 60s, I attended grade school as one decade gave birth to another. I remember waiting in line to go to lunch while the teacher said a blessing and I remember one day that stopped for good. There was no explanation. Sometimes questions linger in a child's mind that never make it out the doors of their lips. They don't want to make grown ups squirm.
Mama lost her own mother when she was two months out of the womb, and I think it's fair to say that's unfair. She was raised with my aunt in near poverty, sometimes with her father and stepmother and sometimes with her aunt. It was complicated and to this day the tangle of aunts and uncles and cousins are a web I don't fully understand.
I don't remember real conversations with my grandfather, but to entertain his grandchildren Papa would pop out his false teeth to make us laugh. I think my response was hysteria, but it seemed to please him. He sipped black coffee from a saucer, something I've never seen anyone else do.
My roots are deep South, deep country.
No indoor plumbing meant the proverbial "pot to pee in". Except it was literal and I didn't like that either. My favorite thing to do was to draw water from the well out back…to draw water from the well out back!…and I thought it magic to lower the empty bucket into darkness and to pull it back to light, full and with customers waiting. I long for the tinny, cool, fresh, pure drink from a dented ladle that doesn't exist today.
Mama's was a difficult childhood but I think she'd say it was a good one. She was a strong feisty woman and I suppose what could've made her bitter made her better. She taught me as much from her actions as she did from her words.
My public school was integrated, and as a first grader I didn't know school had ever been anything but. My classmates were my friends and skin color didn't determine who I played with and who I didn't.
I learned to dread warm, rainy days, though…because Mama's compassion overstepped bounds to me. On our way home to a small three-bedroom apartment, we'd pass the Projects–government housing for those who could afford less than us. Row after row of red brick homes, uniform on the outside but I have no idea on the inside. I was never invited in.
Most of the children who lived there walked to and from school. Did busses not run this route? I don't remember, but they must not have. On those sticky, rainy days, Mama, at the wheel of our family sedan, would tell us to make room. My baby brother must've been in a car seat, but my sister and I would share a lap as our car would fill up past legal to transport as many children as possible. Even if there had been seatbelt laws back then, Mama would've said "Seatbelts be damned" and made us do it anyway. She hated not being able to carry everyone.
Scent-memory persists. Strong and unpleasant, it's funny to me I don't quite know "what" it was; I equate it with rain and young, black children piled in Mama's car. And embarrassment. Though I felt sorry for children who had to walk to school, my empathy stopped at offering taxi service, and I worried about what others thought. I wonder if we ever complained to Mama about it; didn't matter, she would've told us it's the right thing to do.
One of ten memories, a good one. An important one. A legacy from my mother that touches my own children and they don't even realize it.
I'm thankful I do :).