From time to time, thoughts of my mother gather in my head.

Mom. Sitting here thinking of her, gone now for over eighteen years. Yet, I still see her in my mind’s eye, as though she were sitting right across the table from me, huddled in her fuzzy burgundy robe, sipping on a hot cup of herbal tea.

She came to live with me when she was seventy-eight, after my son left home leaving me with an extra bedroom. The first time I saw her all bundled up in that housecoat, with leg-warmers on, and a knit cap, I was aghast.

“Mom,” I exclaimed, “Are you cold?”

“Not anymore,” she replied, smiling.

Well, after I got through laughing, I turned the thermostat up a bit. I couldn’t see freezing my poor old mom just to save a few pennies by keeping the heat turned down low.

She was eighty-six years old the year she died, and a lot of those were hard years. I don’t know, or remember from her stories, the whole tale of her life, but she was born in nineteen hundred and eight, delivered by a mid-wife, as probably most folks were at that time. Or, at least in the south, if they were poor.

Her mother died when she was a year old, and her father placed her, and her brother and two sisters in the care of his sister and her husband. Just as her parents were, they were share-croppers, so the work was hard. Somewhere in there, along about the time she was three or so, her father died, too, leaving them total orphans.

She wanted to be a teacher but she never got further than the seventh grade. At the time she completed that grade, there was no public high school for blacks – or as we were (politely) called then, “coloreds” – available for her to attend in the area, and her family was too poor to send her off somewhere to a private one. And anyway, from what she said, they didn’t much value higher education for girls, so she probably wouldn’t have been educated even if it could have been afforded.

So at around the age of twelve or thirteen, she got married. Too late for her, a few years after that, a high school for blacks was built in Charlotte, the city near where she lived. Soon after marrying, she gave birth to a baby boy who died at around six months old, and the marriage didn’t last long after that.

She married again and had more children but she never forgot her first child, David. She had no means to get photographs taken of him, she was much too poor, but she always said she remembered his little face, how he felt in her arms, the sound of his voice. He was born sometime in the nineteen-twenties and died of pneumonia, while lying on her lap. She knew he was dying, so all she could do was pray for his soul. One can only imagine how frightened she was when, years later, her youngest child – me – became ill at the age of two with the same disease. By then, it was nineteen forty-nine and penicillin was widely available, so: I’m still here.

Neither I, nor my sister or brothers, will ever forget that we had a brother we never got to meet. But, because of our mother, we did know him, and we have never forgotten him.

And that is just one story from the life of my mother.

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