My mother died March 14, 2009. I loved her fiercely. I often thank God for allowing Flora Smith to be my mother. Flora was not perfect, but she was loving, compassionate, talented, gifted, intelligent, passionate, graceful, full of mercy and good works. Despite the love I had for her, one thing particularly bothered me. I felt (and said) that too often she would let people "run over her," particularly "church folk." Some might distinguish between "church folk" and God's people. Of course, we always put ourselves on the side of God's people, even when others whom we hurt would not place us on God's side. My mother was wheelchair bound from the time I was about ten years old. But she did not let her physical challenges keep her from bathing, diapering, and feeding her grandchildren, cooking two and three meals a day (and made homemade bread on Holidays), cleaning (and making sure we cleaned) the house, and taking classes at Franklin University in Columbus. Yes, this same woman would not do tit-for-tat when church folk sometimes slighted her and her gifts (she played the piano and sang and did both well--and simultaneously, which is not an easy task--having taken lessons from elementary through high school), and spoke and acted in mean and insensitive ways toward her. Church folk were not the only culprits, but I always expected church folk to treat each other differently (that's another blog subject). I was a very, very shy child; but I saw everything that went on. I would complain to my mother:
Me: Why do you let those folks treat you like that; Why did you let so-in-so say that to you? I would have given them a piece of mind.
Mom: Girl, you don't have to respond to everything people do and say. You don't have to stoop to their level. Sooooomebody has to act like they have some sense.
So as a grown woman (my mother use to say you are not grown until you are fifty), I find myself "letting things and people slide." I find myself not responding to every insult and crazy word. I am sooo much like my mother. And in some ways and situations this is good, very good. It is also good to learn to appropriately and punctually confront the disrespect and insensitivity of others, especially if you are like me~I can (not always) allow things to pile up like dirty laundry and explode. Now, those of you who are related to me, work with me or are my friends, do not try to use this information against me. I won't permit it.
My mother was raised by her grandparents; her mother died when she was about three years old. Her grandparents who lived in Cleveland, Tennessee, were quite accomplished for black folks of those times in the South. Her grandmother was the first black(?) nurse in the area and helped found the hospital there, but of course received no credit for her contribution. They owned land and a farm. This was not always the case; early in their marriage they "lived in" in separate states doing miscellaneous work to earn and save enough money so they could live together as man and wife (my sister has letters they wrote to each other during those difficult times). My mother was taught by her grandparents to absorb pain, not talk about it, and keep moving. And she did. In fact, I discovered my mother carried a lot of pain from her childhood. For example, she had fallen into the fireplace before she was old enough to attend elementary school; she and her older sister Nellie had been fighting over a doll. And Flora fell into the fireplace; the plait/braid on the top of her head saved her life. But the scar she would live with forever; it took years to heal. Imagine the pain of a five year old whose teacher laughed at her and with the other children describing her as a "bald-headed baby."
I am proud to be my mother's daughter. I can accept and cherish the best of her in me and transform those unhealthy legacies unwittingly passed on to me. I will continue to develop my voice to speak against and critique insensitivity, inappropriate behavior, and evil perpetrated against me and others. "Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfils the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things." ~ Winston Churchill