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How I wish I could dance with Mama again

Mama was tender-hearted and easily wounded, but also a fighter. She loved God, a pack of Winston’s, a 16-ounce bottle of Pepsi-Cola and snapping her fingers to a slow jam on the radio.

John Fountain and his mom, Gwendolyn Marie Hagler Clincy, dancing at his wedding reception in 1992. She died in 2014 after a long illness.
John Fountain and his mom, Gwendolyn Marie Hagler Clincy, dancing at his wedding reception in 1992. She died in 2014 after a long illness.
Provided photo

I remember Mama …

Mama was the kind of woman who loved her children more than anything else in the world and would protect them unto death. A brown-skinned woman with thick brown lips and pretty eyebrows, she also loved God, a pack of Winston’s, a 16-ounce bottle of Pepsi-Cola and snapping her fingers to a slow jam playing over the radio.

Mama was gentle and kindhearted, quick to help a friend or family, always willing to give her last. She believed in family and in sticking together. “Family is always first,” I can still hear Mama telling her children. “All y’all gonna ever have is each other.”

Mama was tender-hearted and easily wounded, but also a fighter. If you had to go to war, you would want to take Mama. She wasn’t the kind to back down and wasn’t one to mince words, either.

Mama was a supreme curser. When she was spewing profanities, the words shot out like hollow-point bullets that could penetrate even the most fortified of psyches. She created word combinations of such invention that I have rarely heard the equal, even from some of the most proficient of profanity spewers.

Mama didn’t curse — she cussed. Her enunciation was riveting. She’d cut ‘em up then walk away, depending on whether the person still wanted to tango.

I loved to dance with my Mama ...

“I wanna hold your han-an-and,” 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.

Mama loved music. Our hi-fi was truly one of Mama’s treasures. It was one of those rectangular-shaped, mahogany-colored wooden boxes. Our hi-fi sat in the living room. Mama had amassed her own collection of 45s and LPs. She had everybody: Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, the Temptin’ Temptations, Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight and the Pips, James Brown.

Mama’s love for music rubbed off on me. I also picked up her knack for dancing. 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 older Black folks do when they’re watching a little kid boogie down.

I never said a word. I just smiled and danced with all my might until I got tired or the music stopped.

How I wish I could dance with my mother again …

Even during my senior year of high school, money was tight. Mama scrounged up enough for deposits on my senior pictures and class ring, though in the end we could afford neither. I kept the proofs of my pictures, wallet-sized photos etched with the name of the studio and the word “proofs.” I never laid eyes on the ring.

But at least I was getting my diploma. Mama couldn’t afford that, either. But true to her word, sometimes through borrowing, penny-pinching and always sacrifice, she had found a way to pay my tuition at Providence St. Mel.

The best picture that I took that sun-washed graduation day is one that I have kept all these years safely tucked away behind the plastic preserving pages of an old photo album. In that photo, Mama stares at the camera. I hold my diploma, kissing her on the cheek. Mama’s face is spread in a girlish smile.

But it is her eyes that move me. They are so happy.

Nearly seven years since her passing, I miss her everyday, especially on Mother’s Day.
But until my dying day, I will always remember Mama.

Email John Fountain at Author@johnwfountain.com

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