Wednesday, April 15, 2015
M is for MOTHER AND ME
On D-Day, April 4, of our blogging, I wrote “Daddy and Me,” so it’s only fitting that on M-Day, April 15 (Tax Day), I write about “Mother and Me.” I was with my mother much more than I was with Daddy. Most of my years at home, he was traveling in his work and was just at home on weekends.
So Mother and I were alone most of the time. We became best friends. But I hasten to tell you that she was very strict, and in some ways, I was very much afraid of her. She had a sharp tongue and never hesitated to tell me what she thought and what I should do. She demanded excellence in school, but I can’t remember her helping me with homework. I was supposed to learn in school and practice what I had learned in homework.
Mother had definite opinions about where I should go to school. I attended the school in our district, while other children went to Lafayette School, several miles away from our neighborhood. And why didn’t the children who lived close to us go to Judah P. Benjamin School? Because the schoolyard bordered a colored (that was the term back in the ‘40s) neighborhood. My mother and daddy didn’t see anything wrong with my attending Benjamin in the completely segregated South. I didn’t either. I loved my school and have so many good memories of going to school there. The truth is that Mother had definite opinions about most things.
She was active in my school life, serving in various offices in the Mothers’ Club and sponsoring the Girl Scout Troup. She was a fair person; in fact, her fairness sometimes caused problems for me. In Girl Scouts, we were planning to present a play. We drew slips of paper for parts, and I drew a main part. But that was not to be. People might think that she had somehow rigged the drawing. So . . . I had to trade parts with the girl who drew the Scene Shifter. In my new part, I would walk on the stage between scenes and say, “I am the Scene Shifter. I shift the scenes.” Definitely not a part that would win the Academy Award.
Remember, please, that my mother was my best friend. What I’m about to say may not sound like a best friend, but bear with me.
Remember, also, that I said she had a sharp tongue. I was prone to tears easily. Whenever I cried for a reason that she thought didn’t merit tears, she’d say, “For goodness sake, Sandra, don’t cry. You look so ugly!” Did that hurt my poor little psyche? Not at all. She probably hurt my feelings, but as I grew up, I took her words to heart and tried not to cry in front of people. Today, I still hear her words. I pay a lot of money for my Mary Kay cosmetics, so why would I want to cry and look ugly in spite of my make-up? Thanks, Mother!
When I was a child, I was shy and always afraid that I’d get in trouble. If I was whining as I left for school because I was afraid I didn’t have my homework done correctly. I didn’t want to disappoint my teachers. So what did Mother tell me as I was leaving, “Don’t worry. She can kill you, but she can’t eat you.” Her words didn’t scare me. Instead, I went off to school smiling, remembering the encouragement that she had given me. Actually, she helped me to become a bit more confident.
Because we were alone most of the time, we found afternoon and evening things to do. We went to town in New Orleans a lot, riding the streetcar down to Canal Street, shopping at Maison Blanche, and eating out. I didn’t tell you that I was a fat child. I wasn’t in early childhood, but by the time that I was in third or fourth grade, I was the heftiest girl in my class. My mother didn’t like this, but what could she do? Well, she could teach me some lessons while riding downtown. If a rather overweight lady would get on the streetcar, she’d lean over to me and say, “If you don’t quit eating so much, you’re going to look just like her!” I’d feel bad, but her words didn’t stop me from filling up my tray with stuffed crab, French fries, macaroni and cheese, rolls, and of course apple pie for dessert. Then as we left, I’d insist on weighing on the scales just inside the door (why would a cafeteria have scales at the door?). Then I’d insist that Mother weigh. And then I’d cry all the way home because I outweighed her. What a strange child!
I could write so much more about my mother. I know you probably think it unusual that I’d say that I loved her with all my heart after letting you in on the way that she treated me. I’ve just chosen these examples of our relationship, mainly because I love them. They are things that I laugh about today, good memories. Her name was Nina Mae Kolb Cheatham. To me, she was Mother, not Mom, just mother. She was a very special lady.