'Phenomenal Mothers I Have Known'

Article excerpt

SHE stood before me, a dolled-up, pretty yellow woman, seven inches shorter than my six-foot bony frame. Her eyes were soft and her voice was brittle. "You're determined to leave? Your mind's made up?"

I was seventeen and burning with passionate rebelliousness. I was also her daughter, so whatever independent spirit I had inherited had been nurtured by living with her and observing her for the past four years.

"You're leaving my house?"

I collected myself inside myself and answered, "Yes. Yes, I've found a room."

"And you're taking the baby?"

"Yes."

She gave me a smile, half proud and half pitying. "All right, you're a woman. You don't have a husband, but you've got a three-month-old baby. I just want you to remember one thing. From the moment you leave this house, don't let anybody raise you. Every time you get into a relationship you will have to make concessions, compromises, and there's nothing wrong with that. But keep in mind Grandmother Henderson in Arkansas and I have given you every law you need to live by. Follow what's right. You've been raised."

More than forty years have passed since Vivian Baxter liberated me and handed me over to life. During those years I have loved and lost, I have raised my son, set up a few households and walked away from many. I have taken life as my mother gave it to me on that strange graduation day all those decades ago.

In the intervening time when I have extended myself beyond my reach and come toppling Humpty-Dumpty-down on my face in full view of a scornful world, I have returned to my mother to be liberated by her one more time. To be reminded by her that although I had to compromise with life, even life had no right to beat me to the ground, to batter my teeth down my throat, to make me knuckle down and call it Uncle. …