This time I will dance, not cry, on Mother’s Day

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I’m not going to cry this Mother’s Day. This time I’ll dance — the way I used to when I was a child on those pre-dawn school mornings when Diana Ross and the Supremes spilled from our hi-fi stereo.

“Stop…In the name of luuuuv, beeeforre youuu breaaak my hearrrt. Think it o-o-verrr…”


Then James Brown, the Temptations, the Beatles. “I wanna hold your ha-a-and, I wanna hold your hand,” I sang as Mama got ready for work, the sounds of the radio sweeping through our apartment like the smell of Dial soap and Mama’s instant coffee, which she always mixed with water she boiled in a small uncovered pot on the kitchen stove.

It was dark outside. The block was quiet and still except inside people’s houses, where the lights had already began to flick on as parents readied for work and children stumbled from bed.

It was just Mama, my sister Net and me. I was about 4. Net was 2. Mama was 21, and my father already having abandoned us.

Mama helped us get dressed while she danced and snapped her fingers, gliding on the music though moving with a sense of purpose. Our mornings were always tranquil. There were no mice, roaches, or hardship and fussing in those years.

Mama worked as a telephone operator at Illinois Bell. She had to be at work at 7 o’clock. That meant Net and I had to get dressed so we could go to the babysitter.

Mama loved music. Our hi-fi was truly one of her treasures. It was one of those rectangular mahogany-colored wooden boxes that resembled a short bedroom dresser. It seemed that everyone had a hi-fi back then. They were as common as the velvet Muhammad Ali “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” posters we all later got at the annual Black Expo at McCormick Place.

Our hi-fi sat in the living room against the north wall. Its top was always raised when it was on. Mama had amassed her own collection of 45s and LPs: Gladys Knight and the Pips, Aretha Franklin, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas…

I especially liked to dance with Mama. She smiled and snapped. I shuffled and shook.

“You getting’ down boy,” Mama used to say in that way that older black folks do when they’re watching a little kid bust a dance move. “Hey now,” she’d say. “How ya handling it, John, how ya handling it!”

These days, I’m “handling” it better. Better than the two years, nearly nine months and incalculable tears since Mama died. Since we said goodbye, heard our last song together, danced our last dance.

In some ways, since Mama’s death, our music stopped. The melody of certain songs playing suddenly over my radio certain to move me to the brink of tears, stirring recollections of Mama and her mortal absence that is mine to bear for as long as I live.

But whether it is time, or life, or acceptance, or having known the love of a mother to which all other loves are incomparable that finally have brought me solace and a modicum of healing, I cannot say for sure.

This much I know. I can feel the quiet, reassuring comfort of my mother’s words again. Hear her “I love you’s.” Remember her touch, the scent of her Estee Lauder. See clearly the memories of yesterday when she was almost giddy, like at Christmas with her family.

And I know I’m doing better now — even as I fight back tears amid all the flowers, fuss and festivities.

But I think, on this Mother’s Day, I’ll dance.


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