Happy Mother’s Day. I’ve said that to you every year since you taught me how to speak. This Mother’s Day is the first time I think I’m mature enough to know what’s behind those words. That might sound funny, as though I’ve been giving you my wishes on schedule and by rote, but that’s not the case. I have so many feelings for you. Forever you have been my provider, my comfort, my guide and the law. It’s overwhelming to need someone so much. All these years you’ve been like a life raft for me. No matter how rough the situation, I knew that if I stayed close to you in body or in spirit, I would make it to the other side of trouble. Sometimes during my adolescence I rejected or rebelled against you, but no matter how ridiculous my young ego ravings, you stayed steady. I saw you as all -powerful as God when I was a little girl. That was where you did some masterful work. A farm girl from Ohio turned working mom in inner city Detroit, you could make everything. Baking biscuits or using rendered bacon grease and lye to make soap, I’d watch with fascination and pride when you turned around and cut me a fancy red down-filled snowsuit the night before the first snow flake fell. You came from the old school – knitting, gardening, – you could generate from your own hand just about anything your family needed to survive.
You had a strong identity outside or our family. I loved the way your nurse’s uniform reinforced your presence as a professional and a power in the workforce. People today don’t wear the uniform like you used to. Since you retired, the profession has opened up to men, and I haven’t seen a nurse of either sex wearing military bars signifying your rank like yours, Lt. Colonel Marion Stewart of the U.S. Army. You made the best of the choices you had, being a black woman in your time. you weren’t even a black woman yet but a ‘colored girl’ who shipped out to Hawaii at the beginning of World War II. The other choice you had was to be a teacher.
One of the most impressive things you ever said to me was when I asked you why you chose to be a nurse over a teacher, was that you ‘wanted to travel farther than the school trip.’ I loved how you made me feel so responsible and involved when you came home from work telling tales of gore, heroism, and tragedy about the patients on the wards or the ‘randoms’ in the emergency room. I loved medical terms the way some kids love dinosaurs. I felt so glamours being in the bathroom with you and scrubbing the rim of your nurses’ cap, being careful not to touch the black velvet band with the nailbrush and washing your stockings with the seams up the back that were so provocative I couldn’t believe I didn’t have to be eighteen to handle them.
I appreciated buffing your white shoes and buffing your name tag with alcohol. Helping you allowed me to enjoy your help with my schoolwork because we had a shared goal: being a part of each other’