‘Moments With My Mom’

by on May 6, 2020 · 9 comments

in From the Soul

By Ernie McCray

My mother has been on my mind, ever so vividly, lately. I can see her in moments in our lives.

Moments where she’s waving goodbye to me as I take off for school or play, against a background of clothes to be washed and hung up to dry; dishes to be washed and dried; floors to be washed and dried.

Moments when she’d hug me, fighting back tears brought on by the sheer energy required to raise a son alone, a Howard University graduate of the Class of ’31, working her fingers to the bone as a janitress at the Mountain States Telephone Company, cutting hair and selling Avon products and doing tax returns and a ton of odd jobs on the side.

Moments when, because of her heavy load, she’d say to me, shaking her head and chuckling, “Sometimes you got to laugh to keep from crying” and the next thing I knew we’d be slapping our knees and rolling on the floor doubled up, grabbing our bellies – overcoming, momentarily, the “race cards” the country had dealt us openly and hatefully and not the least bit regretfully.

Moments when we travelled all around the country sitting at the front of the bus when we left Tucson and then at the back of the bus when we crossed the border between New Mexico and Texas.

I’ll always remember a particular trip somewhere below the Mason and Dixon Line. My mother fell asleep and I wandered across the bus’s color line and the chaw chewing bus driver, startled beyond belief, hit the brakes and spun the bus across the two lane highway’s middle line, probably scaring the hell out of farm animals of every kind.

“Sit your monkey down” he told that mother of mine and she looked at him like he was swine who had stolen her last dime and told him something like: “If you call my boy a monkey again it will take the Foreign Legion to pry me off your sad-ass behind!” – and he got back behind the driver’s seat in record time.

I got all frisky sticking my chest out in victory and my mother, realizing what she had done, told me with a steely look, more than with words, where to sit my behind.

So many trips.

Sunbathing at the lake and riding the L trains, and taking in a White Sox or Cubs baseball game and sitting on some steps outside of a club listening to jazz and blues – in Chicago, the Windy City.

Visiting college friends in D.C., going to the top of the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty.

Walking around like exhibits in a zoo in states with very few black folks like North and South Dakota where children would look at us and ask their mothers and fathers innocently: “What kind of people are they?” to which their parents would reply in whispered tones, “It’s not nice to stare, sweetheart, but those are Negroes.”

“Negroes? Do they bite?” “I’m not really sure, hon.” (Just making fun).

Trembling in Union, Mississippi, where so many of my ancestors are from, after a “southern gentleman” throws our luggage in the mud because I had somehow placed them in front of his suitcase. I picked up from my mother that she was not going to address this ugly behavior and we were not to make any faces showing our disfavor.

Later she explained how people there were not too far removed in their minds from the times we were enslaved and we talked about how, in the south, I was to behave.

I learned so much, moment to moment, from that woman and I can still hear her back in the day saying “Money doesn’t grow on trees” or “Always say please” or “Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze” or “Oh, no, not again, you’ve ripped your Levi jeans at the knees”…

Those priceless moments and so many others with my mother are what made me and I remember them warmly and gratefully.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Avatar Stu May 6, 2020 at 11:13 am

Ernie Thanks for that very terrible of a not so far past and some times still present US. It really gave sicking feeling me as I read your story andmakes me a bit ashamed of my country. there are many more things our country is doing now that continue that feeling.

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Avatar Toby OB May 7, 2020 at 1:20 pm

Ernie, thank you for this reminder. As a nation and as human beings, we must never forget this disgraceful and painful period of American history. There is still much work to be done.

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Avatar Ernie McCray May 6, 2020 at 12:28 pm

We still have a long way to go.

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Avatar mannie garza May 6, 2020 at 1:41 pm

What a lovely tribute to your mom, Ernie. Knowing a bit about her makes sense of how she turned out such a fabulous son. You both are credits to the human race.

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Avatar david beekman May 10, 2020 at 8:03 am

“Always say please” “Money doesn’t grow on trees” “Cover your mouth when sneeze” “Sometimes you got to laugh to keep from crying”
I Love ’em and I say ’em to this day…. Thanks for those wonderful sayings our Moms used to say.

Dave Be
Tucson Alumni

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Avatar Suzi May 10, 2020 at 9:33 am

Hi Ernie,
Such a wonderfully written piece about your mom! She sure must have been proud of the man you’ve become!
Hugs this Mother’s Day!
Suzi

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Avatar Thomas Gayton May 10, 2020 at 7:49 pm

Ernie, You were blessed with a mother who nurtured and inspired you to escape the racist reality of the USA.

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Avatar Dennis Doyle May 11, 2020 at 12:00 am

An amazing woman and insightful son. Thank you for sharing your memories. I can see how she shaped you so.

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Avatar Dr. J May 11, 2020 at 1:45 pm

You are great. You bring back so many memories it is unbelievable. Dr. J

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