I was fortunate because I got to experience several “types” of mothers in my life. I say fortunate because I did not realize this until later in life. Mothers are nurtures and I’ve been blessed to have many mothers. Birth mother, Great-Aunt-mother (Lelia) who raised me, Stepmother (Rosie aka “Money”), Neighborhood Mothers, Church Mothers, Mother-in-Law (Christine), Grandmothers-in law (Grandma Shaw and Big Mama), Daughters-in Law mothers, and Granddaughter mother. Unfortunately, I had no grandmothers that I knew. They passed away before I was born. But I did have a Step-Grandmother who was married to my paternal grandfather.
My birth mother (Clemontine), sadly died when I was a baby. My Great Aunt-mother (Lelia) raised me for 10 years, until her death. Life with Mama Lelia was happy and free. She was a business woman with a convenience store, a duplex, a rooming house, and a restaurant. Country-style living in the city of Bakersﬁeld was comfortable, abundant and full of surprises. I saw how lye soap was made, and chickens who got their heads wrung off. I learned to love scrambled eggs and brains, how to use the wringer washer and the washboard. I had run of the neighborhood, playing with the neighbor kids. There were fruit trees where us kids gorged on grapes, ﬁ gs, peaches and berries and tomatoes. Mama Lelia was warm and loving and caring toward me. I think she loved me with great compassion because my mother had died. Ironically, she also raised my mother after her mother, (my grandmother) passed away when my mother was little.
When Mama Lelia passed away, I went to live with my father and step-mother. Living with my step-mother (Money) and my father brought many changes, some positive and some negative. Their lifestyle was totally different from how I had been raised. I struggled under their rules, and was in an unhappy state most of the time. I rebelled for a year before I was “whipped” into shape.
Through the difficulties, however, Money did teach me things like how to cook, clean house and sew. My plan for years was to leave on the ﬁrst thing I could to get away from her and my father. It took a long time for me to get over how I was treated. We later became friends by the time I completed high school. After I left and reﬂected back on my experience with them, I was grateful that I had someplace to go after the death of Lelia. I forgave Money and learned to enjoy her, woman to woman.
Neighborhood mothers and Church mothers had authority over us kids. We learned to respect them and obey them just like our parents. If one of them found me doing something wrong, I would get a whipping. Then I would get another whipping when I got home.
I spent one summer with my step-grandmother and grandfather as a teenager. I’m not sure what number wife she was to my grandfather, a Church of God In Christ preacher, but she was a very sweet lady with very little to say. She had a cronic eating problem. She ate until she got sick. She never went against my grandfather’s rules. Their lifestyle was ridged, mundane, boring and strict. They would take me to church, but I could not socialize with any of the young people. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, evening meals were the same. Some type of beans and meat. Wednesdays were fasting days – prayer all day, no food, and church that night. “It was either holiness or Hell”.
Granddaddy would say. After weeks of having the same thing to eat, I happened to open one of the cupboards and saw the shelves full of all kinds of food. I nearly passed out. I could not ﬁgure what in the world they were saving all that food for.
My mother-in-law (Christine)was tough on a lot of people. But I was lucky to be chosen by her for her son. She liked me and treated me well. I learned a lot from her about being a mother and grandmother, how to entertain, and how to “make a home” She loved fashion, and so do I. That was what we had in common. We both love jewelry, shoes, clothes, hats, furs, and we loved going to fashion shows. I appreciated how she interacted with my sons. Whe was an involved grandmother. She knew what they were into and they had their own relationship with her.
I have two daughters-in-law. My daughters-in laws have taught me boundaries I never dreamed of as a mother. I had to learn that my sons were no longer mine. But I came to realize that’s a good thing. My daughters-in-law and I have different relationships with each other. They are individuals with different goals an interests and priorities. They may raise their children different, and I respect them. My mother-in-law used to say, “I love Ruthie because Ruthie loves Joe.” At ﬁ rst, I thought this was very biased. But then after my sons married, I thought like her. We want the best for our sons. My mother in law knew that if I love him, I have his best interest at heart. She can stand down and trust me to take care of him “almost” as good as she can. So I learned to relax about my Daughters-in-law and trust each one with my son. Then I could focus totally on my 7 wonderful grandchildren and great granddaughter and her beautiful mother. I stand back proudly and let her do her thing.
Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers in my life!