Sunday, May 08, 2011

"I'll Always Love My Mama"

Music tends to be the one thing that can always serve as a muse for me, but I guess that is what music is supposed to do in the first place, right? As I went through my usual Sunday morning ritual of reading newspapers and simultaneously watching CBS Sunday Morning, I had one of those special moments. I don’t know and can’t remember what the context was for the song, but I heard The Intruders’ 1973 classic, “I’ll Always Love My Mama.”

Immediately a flurry of emotions and memories went through my mind. I’ll get to those in a minute, but it was great that on Mother’s Day the first voice I heard and spoke with was my own mother, Norma Mitchell. I tried to wait to call until I thought she might be up, for I didn’t want to disturb her, not today or any day this week, as her birthday was just 72 hours ago. The first week of May tends to be a celebratory time for my family—celebrating "Mama."

Though our conversation was brief, as Mama was rushing off to church, it was just what her son needed as he prepared for his own day of engaging in the life of the mind—as a graduate student. My mother and I have, since I’ve been in graduate school, been closer than we’ve ever been. At my worst and best moments she’s continually been the warm, reflective, calm voice to my erratic, tense, anxiety-filled existence during my academic sojourn.   From kindergarten to what will soon be three graduate degrees later, she helps me keep perspective and peace--in mind and spirit. I don’t know how, but she does.

Now about those memories I mentioned earlier…my mother is a nurse and I will never forget her working a twelve hour shift then coming home to prepare dinner, take a few moments to sit down as my father asked how was work and a low rumble erupted from her mouth almost inaudible, but you definitely could sense the tenseness of her day. Afterward she’d make sure my sister, then a toddler, was in bed and then she’d look at me and tell me it was time for flash cards.  I used to cringe when she mentioned those flashcards. I would deliberately eat my dinner slow to take my mind off what was coming after I finished. 

Now, let me tell you that those damn flashcards were the bane of my existence—an anathema to my spirit a kid. You remember those multiplication cards? I’m sure you do.  My mother would drill me over those cards until I had them memorized. As I would start to get tired and irritated wanting to just quit and go to bed, she pushed me.  Tears would well up in my eyes out of frustration.  I wondered to myself, “Why was I being subjected to this harsh treatment?” Of course it wasn’t harsh, but it was maternal dedication. My mother was still in her uniform from work as she continued to drill me. Once we finished she gave me a hug that only a mother can give her son and it all in some weird, but marvelous way, in my young mind seemed worth it. It was.

As I started high school my mother was the one who would wake me up after I had fallen asleep at the dining room table—exhausted physically from basketball practice or work. She’d nudge me and I’d wake up from under a Calculus, Chemistry, or some other book I was now using as a pillow and tell me to go to bed. Such moments are what filled my mind as I heard the Intruder’s tune this morning in a flash.

Yesterday afternoon, I had to make a pretty big professional decision and the person I called immediately was my mother. Just like when I was young she gave careful insight as I contemplated my next move in life. The anxiety I felt subsided and I made my decision. I tried to reach out to some of my mentors and professors, of which I was only able to speak to one. His first words were, “What did your mother say?”  After hearing that I knew that once again my mother was still the awesome woman my father married and the mother that I still marvel at. From making decisions about school to the most mundane things, I’ll call in a second to get her advice. I guess in writing this I forgot about my mother’s love of music, which is the reason I started to write in the first place. It is through my mother that I learned to love music too—she introduced me to everything from Earth, Wind, & Fire to Beethoven, The Beatles, Aretha Franklin, Al Green, Patti LaBelle, Santana, and ironically enough The Intruders. My mother is simply amazing and I am glad, thankful, proud, and humbled to call her “Mama.”

I still hate flashcards though.

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Negrointellectual by Vernon C. Mitchell, Jr. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at