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In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens

By Kathy Y. Wilson · March 12th, 2014 · Kathy Y. Wilson

 Lightenin’ and thunder


and I get it from my mamma. 

— Erykah Badu

My partner’s mother has been dead 11 years now; mine will have been dead nine years in May.

Monday, March 10 was Gladine’s birthday; don’t know which one (80? 82? 83?) because she’d started lying about her age twice in her life: when our sister, Devin, was born to her out of wedlock by a considerably younger man and again about a decade before she died of pancreatic cancer on May 10, 2005.

My partner and I have definitely bonded over our absent mothers — two tall, light-skinned, thick-haired women with strong noses and jaw lines. 

In appearance only they could very nearly have been sisters.

But when we first laid eyes on one another and danced together then ran into one another again exactly one year later, neither of us was looking for another motherless child.  

It was just the happenstance of loving, a weird and emotional twinning.

Angie and Gladine were two loving, flawed and sometimes disappointed black women who lived for their men and for their children.

They both died quietly trying to figure out how to live for themselves. But had they lived and were in the flesh with us now they would’ve loved my partner and I together; they would’ve fully accepted us together as a family because they fully accept us as individual women.

There is no convincing anyone who’s never allowed herself to love the person they’ve fallen for that loving another woman is nothing short of a revolution and that bonding over dead mothers sometimes feels like a sweet séance.

My partner and I have enshrined our apartment to our families: Baby pictures of ourselves, our siblings and her son abound. Our mothers in all their 1970s and 1980s regalia and hair changes are everywhere we look: on the mantle above the bed, trapped under glass on our kitchen bistro table.

Yet, we’re no Dead Mammas Club.

But the vacancy left by a dead mother is a particular kind of hole, its dimensions, its dark and lonely and sad crevices cannot be fully articulated, only felt, and so sometimes we sit in silence before these pictures and simply look at one another and nod our heads “yes.”

We tell stories, like the one where my partner was caught by her mother — despite a lookout — with a boy in her room or the time she was seeing an older guy and her mother knew it and Angie sat at the end of her bed and looked her squarely in the eye the way mothers do and let her know what she was in for if she wasn’t careful.

My mamma stories are always about Gladine being loud and hilarious, defiant, Godly or independent. 

She was also Every Mother: She played records in our living room and opened the windows so the neighborhood kids could hear the James Brown and The Ohio Players and they’d come dance at our house and ignore the lure of the streets.

We also tell one another the dreams we dream of our mothers.

Friday night I dreamed I was chasing my mother through the streets of what looked like Baltimore, Maryland.

I was running sometimes at full tilt carrying a small suitcase and jumping on and off city buses following the sound of her voice in a one-sided conversation she was having with someone I couldn’t see.

When I arrived at different places where I thought she was — diners, bodegas, the large waiting area of a welfare office — people there always told me to go to yet another place and that I’d just missed her.

Exhausted yet determined, I kept running until the sound of her voice mocked me to the point of disturbance and I woke up abruptly.

Saturday while everyone praised the warmer weather and groused about losing an hour of sleep, I slipped into an internal obsession over my mother’s Monday birthday. 

It’d sneaked up on me and I needed to know how to be; I wanted control over my emotions.

What I ultimately came up with is that I miss our mother so deeply and inescapably because she was so awesome, not a word I use lightly.

It is actually a pleasure to miss her because I had the best.

Gladine would still be parenting us and she would love my partner and our lives together. 

She would be proud, nosey and openhearted.

She would moon over my partner because she always said she’d love whomever I loved; she would love my partner still more because she was always a good judge of beauty, soulfulness and authenticity — three of my partner’s greatest gifts. 

My mother would’ve considered my partner’s son her grandson and Angie would’ve laughed loudly at my bawdy jokes and my easy way with a curse word. She would’ve wanted to see where and how we lived and she would’ve been buying us stuff unsolicited because it was one of the ways she most readily showed her kids how much she loved them.

Spring is nigh.

The Swiffer stands at attention at the living room door.

Half the blue leather sofa in the room I write in is piled high with clothes, coats and purses waiting to be bagged, hauled out and donated to the Freestore. Somewhere I’ve stashed a bag of shoes, also on their way out.

Spring can mean for me a sad timeline of dates: Gladine’s birthday, my birthday (on my 40th she awoke form a medically induced coma in ICU and knew without prompting it was my birthday), Mother’s Day and her death date, all in a three-month span.

But time is my healer.

Now there is no funk, no darkness and no raging tears of bewilderment.

I am exalted by the memories and the secret presence of these mothers we cannot see but still feel and still lean to.

We had our mothers, at least; we have them still, after all. 

CONTACT KATHY Y. WILSON: letters@citybeat.com



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