Let me make a few comments about my Mama. Now, when I refer to “Mama” in these writings, I’m not referring to my mother. Nope, I’m referring to my Mama, that grand old woman, that walking example of Southern womanhood, that curiously bundled characteristics of the genteel, the tough, the sensitive, and the mysterious. I’m referring to my maternal grandmother, who pretty much raised me for the first eight years of my life.
Mama was a mystery. Her father was the principal at the first public school in Gwinnett County. Her siblings were educated, sophisticated in an academic sense. But Mama had only a fourth grade education. One day, when Mama was in her nineties, she was sitting at the breakfast table in her baby sister’s house with me. Her baby sister was cooking us breakfast. I ventured a question to the baby sister.
“Aunt Virginia,” I inquired, “how is it that your father was the principal of a school and all of you got an excellent education, but Mama didn’t go beyond the fourth grade?”
Aunt Virginia suddenly forgot she was, in my eyes, the paragon of Southern femininity. She slammed the cooking tool down on the cabinet, whirled around and said, “You want to know why your Mama didn’t go beyond the fourth grade? Do you really want to know?” I looked over at Mama who was staring at her baby sister with this bemused smile on her face. “I’ll tell you why,” Aunt Virginia continued. “Your Mama didn’t go past the fourth grade because she was a spoiled brat. That’s what she was. Whatever she didn’t want to do she just manipulated Papa out of doing. She didn’t want to go to school so Papa told her she didn’t have to. Your grandmother is the walking example of ‘spoiled brat.’”
I looked at Mama. She winked. Aunt Virginia saw the wink and let forth with an expletive as she turned back to her cooking.
Other things I remember about Mama. There was that day when I arrived at the house to behold Mama and Aunt Virginia hoeing the garden in the backyard. “I’m glad you’re here,” proclaimed Aunt Virginia. “Maybe you can get your Mama to stop being so stupid.” She pointed at Mama. “Go ahead,” she said. “Go ahead, tell him what the doctor said.” Mama kept hoeing.
I shrugged my shoulders when Aunt Virginia looked at me. “Your grandmother got back from the doctor a couple of hours ago,” she said. “The doctor informed her that she had a broken bone in her left foot and needed to keep her weight off it. Will you try to talk some sense into her?”
I turned toward Mama to say something. I didn’t say anything. She had lifted her left foot off the ground and continued to hoe balanced on her right foot.
This is not to day that Mama never complained. It’s just that back then I didn’t realize she was complaining. I can hear her now, she’d rise in the morning and exclaim to anyone who could hear, “Oh, my aching sacroiliac.”
I thought an expression. Yesterday I worked most of the day in the yard. This morning I got up. Or better put this morning I attempted to get up. I really had a hard time doing so. After I did, I Googled “sacroiliac.” It wasn’t an expression. Mama was acknowledging a medical condition.
Oh, my aching sacroiliac!