There is a belief in some cultures that we choose our parents before we are born and maybe that’s true.
All I can say is I’m glad I ended up with the mother I got. In my way of reminiscing, it seems I can remember our very first moments together with me in her womb all kicked back and relaxed, as I had been for nine months, when unexpectedly, on April 18th, 1938, something gripped me like a cook squeezing chorizo from its hull. And the next thing I knew this woman who had soothed me throughout all those months of the good and cozy life, this woman who had hummed and sung lullabies and spirituals that oozed such gentle soul – this woman was now screaming as though her hair was being snatched from her scalp.
And before I could figure out what was happening with whatever powers of discernment I possessed, some masked dude had popped me across my behind, a practice that helps a newborn breathe I’ve been told but, hey, I don’t think I exhaled until the next day. But such a kick ass welcome was apropos, considering the status quo in the Jim Crow world I had just been delivered into.
And was Mary Almittie McCray ever the perfect guide to help me negotiate this rough ride they call life. My memories of her are indelible:
I can see that wide sunny smile she flashed when I brought home A’s or when I acted in little church and school plays.
I can hear her multi-layered laugh when I entertained her with my silly little ditties. I can feel her delight and her immense pride when I danced to songs she played on the piano ever so prettily or when I threw one down on the basketball court at Tucson High or at the U of A.
I still have visions of her jumping with joy with her arms stretching overhead reaching towards the sky the night I scored 46 points, a record that still stands today.
I could feel the coldness in her wrath when I left home early one morning when I was about 8 or 9 and came home that evening at about 8 or 9, playing her against my grandfather with lies about my whereabouts. I got the whuppin’ of my life, an extremely rare form of punishment around my house although a child’s behind was fair game for a rod of almost any kind back in my time.
It was hard to put one over on that woman. I could come home wearing a sheepish grin after, say, taking my girlfriend to the drive-in and she would freeze me with some simple question like: “What was the movie about?” Or “How come your clothes are on backwards?”
“Well, er-ruh, you see, the, the, the…” “Look (with her hands on her hips), I don’t want to hear all that. Just summarize the flick and zip your fly and tell me why, after I’ve worked my fingers to the bone trying to raise you right in a respectful home, you act as though you don’t have an ounce of common sense tucked anywhere in your brain?”
That mother of mine would never let me get away with one of those “I dunno,” shoulder shrugs so many kids get away with in defense of something stupid they’ve done. Pleading ignorance just didn’t work with a woman who had: taken you to countless plays and movies and concerts and art shows; discussed books with you; exposed you to the movers and doers and shakers and bakers of the world whom we would listen to at the Sunday Evening Forum at the university; dragged you to backyard political barbecues where you got some basic ideas about how this whole democracy thing is supposed to go down; held you when there was no room at the inn or seat in the cafe or no place for us at the front of the bus down below the Mason and Dixon line – from all of that she knew that I knew what’s what and expected me to act like it.
Had my back, she did, every step of the way; at a time when I was tumbling and falling and tripping over my wit’s end she was there and when I came up for air and saw a way out of all the despair she was still there – with a warm hug and a pink slip to a chevy with a little note that read: “A little something from me to help get you where you need to be.”
How blessed can a man be? Looks like I made a good choice if you asked me. Anyway, I suppose I’ve been thinking of her lately due somewhat to Black History being the focus of the month of February. I can just see her now if she were alive reacting to the recent racial shenanigans at UCSD with her hands on her hips, chanting: “Hmm, hmm, hmm, is this Mississippi in 1953?”
No, mom, this is a world that’s still short of the love it needs to become the world it was meant to be.