On this day, as always, I’m thinking of the two women in my life who made me who I am. My birth mom Elsa Mae Stott and the woman who helped her raise me, Mary Lee Johnson.
Mary was in our home when I was born as she helped take care of my grandmother. My dad always said I “wouldn’t have any sense at all if it weren’t for Mary” but then, this was after he and my mom divorced so there could be some bad seeds here.
However, in many ways, he was so right. Mary taught me things, as a smart black woman, that my mother certainly never could. She wasn’t raised in the Jim Crow South like Mary was and she didn’t experience all the discrimination blacks as a whole did in that era. And through it all, I never heard Mary say one bad word about a soul. I’m sure she had these thoughts but it just wasn’t in her nature.
Not to say she didn’t have grit, quite the opposite. She was tough as nails but as soft as pudding all at the same time. Her husband, on the other hand, was the opposite. He had guns in the house and wasn’t afraid to use them or show them, if the need arose.
Their lives were hard but they still found ways to give back. They grew a vegetable garden that they shared with the community. Jim was a deacon at the Flat Creek Baptist Church and Mary was a Mother of the Church.
Jim raised hogs and I got to ride along when they were fed. I tried to get my mom to let me have a piglet but that was a firm no. I remember a story Jim told about selling his hogs in St. Louis. He realized that, as a black man, he was paid less than white sellers. So, he found a wino, gave him a bottle and put him in the driver’s seat. Jim rode along as a passenger and, voila, he received the same pay that he deserved. Survival tricks like this stuck in my young brain. So did the inequities and unfairness. It gave me an empathy for people that I don’t think I would otherwise have.
Together, Mary and my Mom gave me a complete life lesson, from both sides. I’ll be forever grateful for all I learned at their knees. I will also never forget.
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