I got to tell you that….
The way I raised and how I grew up hardly relates to how younger people act these days.
I understand that we are in a “cyber-techno” era where kids are now growing up seeing all their peers (even elementary) school with phones. It is an entire “brave new world.” For me, it is quite the leap to see how different I am from individuals who are ten years younger than me. And ten years isn’t anything compared to an sixty year old gap difference.
I was raised in a small town in rural Georgia—welfare poor and black. I repeat these descriptors only for the sake of emphasis how different I am from what I’ve seen in working in a university environment. I’ve been working for the university, within four days, two years now.
I can comprehend the situation, but I don’t fully understand it. I was taught two major lessons in my life that will always be with me. These two learning principles are my guiding force in how I keep my ship steady so it won’t continuously capsize.
Lesson #1 Diligence aka Hard work
Again, I was brought up in poor welfare family. When I use “poor” and “welfare,” I want people to know the depths of my struggle. Yes, when you are on welfare, you are a defaulted poor. My mom did not work at all. She was not a working mother. She stayed at home with a welfare check and raised us. She always did not get it right, but do you know what parent does?
Life as JMF’s daughter was challenging. I was taken care of pretty well up until four, but I don’t have any memories before then. The biggest moment in my life is remembering my sister being born. I do remember, before she was born, I was in a car accident. My stepfather’s brother was driving the car, Uncle Joe, and he hit someone. I remember bouncing in the back seat of the car…and us getting home early in the morning. I also remember my sister’s birth in Eastman. I remember craving hospital cafeteria food.
And I remember playing by myself before my sister came as well. Yet, when my sister came, that’s when I really start remembering a lot. I remember my mom taking care of my great Aunt Polly….
Somewhere down the road, I became the responsible one. I became the one who thought I needed to teach my sister not to be a brat because she was my mom’s favorite.
What I also learned is that we did not have a charm life. It was a hard life. Yes, I got fed, I got clothed, and I got sheltered, but I did not get any fairy tale love. It was until later when the dots connected in my head that my mom was more like Eva Peace in Toni Morrison’s Sula. In the novel, there is a very illustrative scene where Hannah asks Eva did she ever love them…reading it is quite powerful:
“The second strange thing was Hannah’s coming into her mother’s room with an empty bowl and a peck of Kentucky Wonders and saying, ‘Mamma, did you ever love us?’ She sang the words like a small child saying a piece at Easter, then knelt to spread a newspaper on the floor and set the basket on it; the bowl she tucked in the space between her legs. Eva, who was just sitting there fanning herself with the cardboard fan from Mr. Hodges’ funeral parlor, listened to the silence that followed Hannah’s words, then said, ‘Scat!’ to the deweys who were playing chain gang near the window. With the shoelaces of each of them tied to the laces of the others, they stumbled and tumbled out of Eva’s room.
‘Now,’ Eva looked up across from her wagon at her daughter. ‘Give me that again. Flat out to fit my head.’
‘I mean, did you? You know. When we was little.’
Eva’s hand moved snail-like down her thigh toward her stump, but stopped short of it to realign a pleat. ‘No, I don’t reckon I did. Not the way you thinkin’.’
‘Oh, well, I was just wonderin’.’ Hannah appeared to be through with the subject.
‘An evil wonderin’ if I ever heard one.’ Eva was not through.
‘ I did not mean nothing by it, Mamma.”
‘What you mean you didn’t mean nothing by it? How you gone to mean something by it?’
Hannah pinched the tips off the Kentucky Wonders and snapped their long pods. What with the sound of the cracking and snapping and her swift-fingered movements, she seemed to be playing a complicated instrument. Eva watched her a moment and then said, ‘You gone can them?’
‘Uncle Paul ain’t brought me none yet. A peck ain’t enough to can. He say he got two bushels for me.’
‘Oh, he all right.’
‘Sho he all right. Everybody all right. ‘Cept Mamma. Mamma the only one ain’t all right. Cause she didn’t love us.’
‘Awww, Mamma? Awww, Mamma? You settin’ here with your healthy-ass self and ax me did I love you? Them big old eyes in your head would a been two holes full of maggots if I hadn’t.’
‘I didn’t mean that, Mamma. I know you fed us and all. I was talkin’ ‘bout something else. Like. Like. Playin’ with us. Did you ever, you know, play with us?’
‘Play? Wasn’t nobody playin’ in 1895. Just ‘cause you got it good now you think it was always this good? 1985 was a killer, girl. Things was bad. Niggers was dying like flies. Stepping tall, ain’t you? Uncle Paul gone bring me two bushels. Yeh. And they’s a melon downstairs, ain’t they? And I bake every Saturday, and Shad brings fish on Friday, and they’s a pork barrel full of meal, and we float eggs in a crock of vinegar. . .’
‘Mamma, what you talkin’ about?’
‘I’m talking ‘bout 18 and 95 when I set in that house five days with you and Pearl and Plum and three beets, you snake-eyed ungrateful hussy. What would I look like leapin’ ‘round that little old room playin’ with youngins with three beets to my name?’
‘I know ‘bout them beets, Mamma. You told us that a million times.’
‘Yeah? Well? Don’t that count? Ain’t that love? You want me to tinkle you under the jaw and forget ‘bout them sores in your mouth? Pearl was shittin’ worms and I was supposed to play rang-around-the-rosie?’
‘But Mamma, they had to be some time when you wasn’t thinkin’ bout…’
‘No time. They wasn’t no time. Not none. Soon as I got one day done here come a night. With you all oughin’ and me watchin’ so TB wouldn’t take you off and if you was sleepin’ quiet I thought, O Lord, they dead and put my hand over your mouth to feel if the breath was comin’ what you talking ‘bout did I love you girl I stayed alive for you can’t you get that through your thick head or what is that between your ears, heifer?’ (Toni Morrison’s Sula ebook version page 5 out of 24).
That entire conversation between Eva and Hannah makes me realize that my mom did love me, but she loved me in a different way. Her love was caring for me and protecting me. Her crude remarks about sex and relationships actually were her lessons in teaching me to be careful. In some ways, writing that and reading it, I chuckle, but at the same time, its meaning is profound. Hannah and I wanted the same thing from our moms. We wanted them to embrace us with hugs and kisses. We wanted their affection. Yet, I feel like we confused affection with love. Yes, affection is a result from love. It is a positive side effect. Yet, it does not mean that our mothers did not love us.
Love, for all of us, is different. We experience it differently. What some movies we’ve watched and books we’ve read have shown us is an idealize version of love. And the reason why it is idealized is because many of us have been affected by it to the point where we think that’s how our family should love us. How our mothers and fathers should love us.
When they do love us, it is not what we daydream of. Love, the experience of love, is different compared to what mythical fictionalized love is. It is different. I know. I’ve experienced in giving and receiving it. Love is caring. Love is putting food on the table. It is making sure your children are alive. Love is giving a roof over your children’s head. It is keeping them safe by watching them breathing. For many people who have lived it, that’s what love is. It is not some romanticized, unrealistic idea. Love is showing in ways of helping one learn to survive.
When you are younger, you think that all your idealization are truth, and your idealization should reflect what reality is. Yet, reality is the truth. Reality shows us the truth and what actually occurs in real time.
And what I am saying is that my mommy’s love aided me in beyond survival. Her “tough” love guided me into becoming independent. If it wasn’t for that tough love, I wouldn’t have made the choices which has gotten me here today.
My mom did her part. Could she have been better at it? Yes, she could have been. Were there times where I could have been a better daughter? Yes, they were.
No one gives us instruction books in how to act like robots. Independence is learned and earned. It is called self-reliance. It is called self-confidence. Esteem comes from when you realize that you know you are able to pick yourself up and keep going…that nothing can ultimately knock you down because you won’t allow it.
Hard work is about a process. It is about proving to yourself you can do it even if you don’t get what you believe you should out of it. Experiences are our gold bars. Hard work teaches us that we can endure even though it is challenging. Life is not about fairness. Life doesn’t give your fairness. It is your responsibility to learn how to navigate the waters. People aren’t going to give you shit for free. Nothing comes without a price. I’ve learned and have been reminded of that as I become older.
Lesson #2 Humbleness
Being great is knowing that you are not great. Yes, we all know how to do something. However, some of us are given a call…and we need to respond to it. Just don’t wait too long because time is not our enemy. Time is a neutral factor in aging, and it has its place because it is supposed to. You are supposed to learn how to work around it—utilize it.
I know what it is like being very young. It wasn’t that long ago when I was in my twenties…about thirteen years ago. Even, I, Miss S, had a chip on her shoulders despite me going through the sludge growing up in Cockroach.
However, that’s right. I know that I had a bit of a chip on my shoulders, but I had elders…older people who have been through the sludge to slap me down. As I told someone, I am so grateful that they were mean to me. That they were stern with me. That they were strict with me because I needed that. I needed that to become humble.
Humbleness is about knowing that you aren’t the best. You aren’t the best while you are alive because you aren’t through. You aren’t through learning. You aren’t through learning about life. If you were, then, you would throw in the towel and get fed to the worms.
The only time you are great is after you go on to the next stage of this universe. And those you leave behind…if you did all you could to live up to your potential while you are breathing, then you are great.
You think Faulkner was great when he was alive? Do you think Fitzgerald was great when he was alive? Do you think that Dorothy West, Richard Wright, Zora Hurston, and Nella Larsen was great?
Don’t fall into the hype that you are great because once you do…whatever you produce is no longer great. You become a caricature of yourself.
Balancing life is about telling yourself that you have NOT did enough. It is to keep living as long as you can. If you are like me and say you will live past a 100, you will. Self-prophecy is a powerful entity. It is so powerful that once you put energy to mind, spirit, and soul you will accomplish what you want.
Some of us are slow about this. It is okay but don’t keep putting it off.
Somewhere, you youngins think that that it is okay for everything to be just did for you. I want you to realize that it’s quite dangerous believe that.A
Greatness comes from believing that you can do it again and again in different ways, and it is earned…NOT GIVEN.
If it was, then, wouldn’t we all be great?