During my childhood, it got to the point where my sweet relationship with my mother was broken due to her bad choices. I never stopped loving her, but, unfortunately, things with us were never again the same. She died 22 years ago, shortly after her 68th birthday (September 20). Questions I had for her were never answered. Apologies I craved from her were never received.
How did I deal with that loss? Terribly, at first. Talk about bad choices! I tried to replace that hole in my heart with a variety of temporal and unhealthy solutions. It wasn’t until my heart was filled with the love of God, through my faith in Jesus Christ, that I stopped focusing on my personal loss and started thinking about Mom and all she had experienced. I forgave her. I began to write stories fueled by my imagination, hope, newfound knowledge, remembrance of the good times, and a desire to keep God’s commandment to honor my mother.
Like this one. I imagined Mom in her current state of eternal life with God, listening to others tell their stories — theologically incorrect, I’m sure, but that was not my goal here.
This was: To hear her give to me the apology that I never received.
It’s my turn, you say?
Well, now. I moved into eternity with my Lord when I was 68 years old. Dee Dee says it better: Eternity years young. A babe in the Father’s arms.
I bet if I was there today, well and at peace with myself and my kids, she would have brought me breakfast in bed. Tea and strawberries. Roses from her garden to crown the day.
I do love her. Hate that I was a disappointment for her — for all of them. I’ll just have to wait until we’re together again.
She told me that her first memory of me is my exercising with Jack LaLanne. Ha! Watching Jack on the black and white TV set and he’s cheering me on. Baby Sandra is in a playpen and Dee Dee is no more than three years old. I was just over 30 and I had six children by that time.
Darla Denise. Dee Dee, see?
I’ve been called pretty, more times than one. And Mama gave me a pretty name: Christine. Mama wasn’t too happy about me deciding on a modeling career at the age of 16. Fashion magazines. Young, pretty, and never you mind. Just the sort of woman who someone like Dee Dee’s daddy would be looking for. Oh, yes. Marvin was handsome, an Air Force man. When we got married and moved to California, it should have been happily ever after, as they say.
But I dealt with what life handed me. Living in that small town in the Sixties, on welfare and all, was hard. But I didn’t let it bring me down. I was one of only two or three black women in the neighborhood. Was I going to spend time fussing about that? No. I liked all the socializing and making friends. Who cared about the color of their skin? I was even an Avon lady! No shades that suited me, but I sure did sell a lot of goods to my friends.
Mama taught me to make neighbors part of your family. You never knew when you’d all need help from each other. Tex and Barbara, white as saltines and our very best friends. Salt and pepper, that was us. We’d play poker together on the weekends and, after the kids went to bed, we’d talk about the race riots going on. Loved those two and their three girls.
No, I wasn’t perfect, Lord knows. But my kids always had something to do, though money was tight. Or wasn’t at all. I taught them responsibility. My kids were washing dishes so young, they had to use a step stool. And I didn’t forget God. I taught my kids to respect Him and I taught them about heaven and hell. I taught them how to pray in Jesus’ name.
Marvin was tough on the kids, but he was a military man. Nothing special about black men back then. What he suffered because of his skin color – well, that just broke him and he had to have that drink. Never had a good job after his discharge. Did janitor work. But he tried. Especially with the kids. He’d make sure they said, “Yes, Ma’am” and “Yes, Sir” when they spoke to us. I respected that about their daddy.
What did I like? Gardening. I loved to garden. Whatever piece of dirt I could find in the yard, I’d grow something with it. Roses were my favorite. A good day for me started out sunny, I’d go in the backyard, hang the clothes on the clothesline, and look at my rose bushes. Heaven on earth. Dee Dee wanted so badly to buy me a big house with a rose garden, yellow roses. She wanted to be singer, and the first thing she would do after she struck it rich, she told me? Buy me a house of my very own. I never owned a house. Must have lived in 20 of them before I died.
Don’t you get me talking about Christmas. Oh, Lord, I loved Christmas. I would show the kids how to take TV Guide magazines, fold and spray paint them gold, and we’d have little Christmas trees. I’d get that fake snow and let them spray it all over our living room windows. I’d always have at least one Christmas present for each of my kids, no matter what. I’d find a way.
My babies sure did love me. For a time I had to work nights, doing my nursing duties, and they put up with that. I sure missed helping them to bed, but I taught them that prayer: “Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” When I got home in the morning after work, I’d hide my tired and get to work on fixing their hair for school. My kids looked decent for school.
Those things happened when I was the old Mom, as Dee Dee puts it. First ten years of her life make her happy to remember. But those ten years, and I’m sad to talk about it, were all she had of me that was good.
I don’t know exactly when the coldness first came. There’s just so much a person can take, I suppose, when you have no help – at least you think you don’t. And I stopped being Mom. Their daddy and me – well, it was no secret that we weren’t happy with each other, after a while. The kids saw it all — screaming, cussing, throwing, slapping, hitting. We would just lose ourselves, all selfish and terrible. Dee Dee was 10 when we divorced. But just because I wasn’t getting by with my husband, that didn’t change my devotion to my kids. I was a good mom. For a time.
Now here comes the hard part. I want to stop telling the story now, okay? Let me take a rest here for a minute.
It’s hard, so hard, to talk about. Even here. You know, a time came when I decided to put my kids aside. Can’t explain it except I wanted an escape from their daddy. So, I went to another man and soon moved him in. For the rest of my life, I chose to cling to a man, who I now see clearly was evil, and put my kids aside. Let them be in harm’s way. My kids could never understand it. Still don’t. I didn’t even understand it. But I chose it, and it caused me and my children a lot of suffering and pain, body and soul. And the thing that hurts the most? It cost me the respect of my children. Oh, they loved me, but they didn’t respect me. Cut me off for the most part after they grew up. Wouldn’t let me see my grandchildren. Can’t get worse than that. But I earned it, no doubt about it.
Lord, here come the tears. I’m thinking about how they never stopped loving me. And that’s probably because they remember the Mom I used to be, the old mom, like Dee Dee says, and kept hoping I’d be her again. Never was.
There were many times when my kids tried to get me straight, get me away from that evil. But each time I would just give up and give in. The dear Lord knows I’m sorry.
Oh, my God-given children, I’m so sorry.
Dee Dee became a mother herself. Lord, her life was changed for good. She told me later about reading that passage in the Bible: “Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will take me in.” She stopped waiting for me and moved on.
Dee Dee was the first one of my kids to hear that I had died. The Lord tells me that she was relieved more than sad. I understand that. What more would a child want for her mother than heaven? For too many years all she shared in my living was ugliness and tears. I don’t blame her for wanting me gone. No, not at all.
We did share a good moment together before I died. Dee Dee called it a gift. A few months before that cancer took my breath away, Dee Dee asked me if I believed the promises of the Bible. I told her that I did. “Tell me how you became a Christian.” And I told her. So here’s another story for you: A traveling preacher came to my town and I attended the meetings with my Mama and Daddy. I was young, less than 10 years old. I listened very carefully to what the preacher said and made up my mind. When the altar call came, I went forward. I told him I wanted Jesus to take care of my sin.
When I told Dee Dee that story, I also told her that I wasn’t afraid to die. Because I knew where I was going and I knew that Jesus was expecting to see me. Dee Dee is a Christian herself, hallelujah, and we’ll walk the halls of life together again someday. This time she’ll have a new mom, much better than that old one. Amen to that.
I told them I wanted Dee Dee to sing “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” at my service. One of my favorite hymns. And she did. Oh, she did, through thick tears. Tears as thick as the love I want to pour out on her and the rest of my kids. It was hard for her to sing that day. But she was obeying that old commandment, wasn’t she?
Do you remember it? Let me sing it for you:
Precious Lord, take my hand,
Lead me on, let me stand,
I am tired, I am weak, I am worn;
Through the storm, through the night,
Lead me on to the light.
Take my hand, precious Lord,
Lead me home.
I’m finished now. Someone else’s turn.
Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you. (Exodus 20:12)
Written In honor of my mother whose birthday is September 20. She met her Precious Lord in November 1999. The earthly incidents shared in this story are all true.