A Mother Remembers

by on November 10, 2011 · 10 comments

in From the Soul, Life Events

Photo courtesy of vectorportal.com via Flickr

A little note: I told this story of being separated from my mother when I was six years old in “Say What? (Remembering a Childhood Experience),” OB Rag, November 2, 2011. After writing that piece I asked myself: What would my mother say about that year in our lives? And I started seeing her in my mind, standing with her hands on her hips, feet firmly on the ground, her natural stance for baring her soul – and from this image of her there came these words of recall – in her voice:

What a moment. Pulling that little boy of mine to my chest and telling him that we were going to have to live apart was the most heart wrenching experience of my life. I don’t know if I could do it again.

But, what was I to do? I had no job. No man. No backup plan. And, please understand, there is no such thing as a good time to tell your precious child that you’re going to uproot him from all there is on earth that he knows and cares about.

Just thinking about it takes my breath away. I can still see him running to me, all kinds of exploding noises flying from his mouth, enemy airplanes and wild Indians and creatures from dark lagoons falling at his feet – and I bring a crashing halt to all that magic and wonder with news of how we were going to have to pack up and go our separate ways.

My, my, my, the look on his face. I swear a giant question mark rose above his head like those in the word balloons in cartoons. And he threw a million questions at me and everyone of them began with “Why?” I thought I would die because each “Why?” spoke to the empty feeling I harbored inside that I had betrayed him terribly, for what mother would dare leave her child?

But, it was do or die and the only way I could survive this hell was find somebody somewhere out there to provide my child a home so I could work the only job I could find anywhere. But, goodness knows, not just anybody. No.

So I prayed and prayed and prayed like I had never prayed before, like I’ve never prayed since and I just knew, like that song of faith I was raised on, that the Lord was going to make a way somehow, but not without me right by his side, and He and I didn’t find just anybody. We found the Williams. Hallelujah!

The Williams. When we first laid eyes on each other at the front door of their house, after I had walked through their yard, stepping over more tools and gadgets and, who knows what than I had ever seen – they came to me and took me in their arms and told me “Girl, we know how hard this must be for you but we’re all going to get through this” and from that affirmation I knew that I was free to just go and do what I had to do to make it. Talking about an answer to a prayer. All I wanted for my boy was for him to live in a house where there was a lot of love and I knew that wish was going to come true by the time those two took their arms from around me. Love flowed from them like waters in a gentle stream. My boy was in the best of hands: God’s and the Williams’.

Those wonderful citizens of the universe opened up a special world of excitement for my son that he could never have experienced with me. Me put a worm on a hook? Uh-Uh. But he and the Williams fished like they owned the lakes and the streams. Me sleep on the ground in a tent? Uh-Uh. But they laid their heads down for the night in places far away from civilization. Me shoot an animal? Uh-Uh. But they could tiptoe through the wilds and bring down some creature for dinner from yards away. I would visit my boy and his tales of all that he and the Williams had done would fly off his tongue like grease spattering from French Fries sizzling in a deep fryer.

God sent people if there ever were any, the Williams. They just took him as is, like me. Like me, they put up with his bedwetting and fidgety-ness and like me they gushed over his good grades and how easily he made friends and how helpful, after a little arm twisting, he was around the house: “The best duster we’ve ever known,” they used to say. Like me they’d listen to his never ending stories and rhyming ditties and they’d answer the thousands of questions he would ask in a day.

As to problems of any consequence concerning my boy, I don’t recall any other than a fight he had with a bully and there were a couple of situations of boys being boys rambunctious-ness. And from what I heard the bully needed a good butt kicking.

But there was one very scary day. He had a friend who had a vivid imagination that matched his and they would play games where they were handsome princes and beautiful princesses and all kinds of characters wielding an array of magical qualities and powers.

On this day she, Lois Lane, cried for help in a scenario that looked like “a job for Superman!” But Superman got tangled up in his cape, lost his footing, and took a nosedive of about six feet or so from the top of a mound of dirt and banged his head on the rocks below and woke up in a Morenci hospital with a splitting headache and a fuzzy looking doctor asking him: “Can you say your abc’s?” He could, and the whole town let out a collective sigh of relief at his recovery. “From kryptonite,” he told me. I’ve never felt more frightened than I was the day I got the “Superman” phone call. It brought life to the immense fears I had put aside because things were going so well overall.

I marvel to this day how everything worked out. And as they say, every good thing must come to an end. Uprooting him again didn’t come easy but neither one of us could resist the thought of going back to the life we once had.

When we left for Tucson I sensed that the concept of “home” was vague to him, something that no longer existed. I don’t think he really knew what to expect at the end of our train ride. And if the truth be told, neither did I.

But I’ll always remember him waking up from a nap in our coach and looking out the window and proclaiming excitedly to himself: “That looks like ‘A’ Mountain! Is that the Valley National Bank? The Pioneer Hotel?”

It was in the cab ride into the heart of our neighborhood that he finally caught on. He jumped for joy like zoot suiters at the Savoy: “Mom, look, there’s Pop’s Poultry!…Mt. Calvary!… Jim’s Market!… Mr. McNeil!… Dunbar School!… There’s our house! Our house! It’s still here! It’s still here! I love you! I love you!”

In that moment I knew that my betrayal was forgiven. it was so lovely being a mother again.


Photo courtesy of vectorportal.com via Flickr

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

JMW November 11, 2011 at 3:42 am

Beautiful and elegant; I’m out of superlatives. Tears flowed. I’m pretty sure it’s superfluous for me to say you’ve got a gift honed by craft. As always, thanks for the post.


Ernie McCray November 11, 2011 at 12:39 pm

And thank you for your thanks.


Dan Heiserman November 11, 2011 at 6:07 pm

Dr. McCray:

I always look for your byline in the Rag and your letters to the UT. Your writing has moved me for many years. I have shared your pieces with family and friends over the years and they all agree with me.

Keep it up. We all need the recurring shots of progressive thought.

Dan Heiserman


Ernie McCray November 11, 2011 at 6:55 pm

Thank you, Dan. Comments like yours lift my spirit and keep me writing.


Shirley Sprinkles November 12, 2011 at 9:51 am

Ernie, another marvelous, heart-wrenching piece. Motherhood is often a never-ending series of conflicted thoughts, needs, and emotions. Thanks for sharing what were quite likely authentic feelings, fears, and hopes of your adoring mom.


Ernie McCray November 12, 2011 at 10:30 am

You’re so right, I think, about motherhood. And, with my mother, those elements, conflicted thoughts, needs and emotions could be expressed to the third power. She was an “all out” kind of person. To find the Williams she probably interviewed every single person in the state of Arizona. If nothing else she was thorough.


Patty Jones November 12, 2011 at 10:54 am

Beautiful Ernie. We’re so blessed to have you here.


Ernie McCray November 12, 2011 at 2:51 pm

I’m blessed to be part of something so worthwhile which is pretty much all I’ve ever wanted in life, to contribute to something that’s about making thangs mo bettuh.


Morgan November 12, 2011 at 12:30 pm

Great piece, Ernie. Thanks again for coming/speaking at SDSU on Thursday. AWESOME hearing your perspective on life. Hope all is well!


Ernie McCray November 12, 2011 at 2:54 pm

Thank you. I look forward to speaking to Joaquin’s classes about aging and life in general. It keeps me involved with learners at the university level. Old teachers like me never die, we just keep on throwing stuff to think about in the mix. All is well, hope the same for you.


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