What My Mother Gave Me
I am my mother’s daughter. I am her child. The evidence is in my face. She gave me her brown, almond-shaped eyes. I also inherited her smile. I got my father’s physique (long, veiny, muscular limbs), but I never exceeded my mother’s height. The gap between my two front teeth, that’s from her. She gave that to all three of us (her children), and so we wouldn’t be insecure about it, she told us it meant we were descendants of the Queen of Sheba.
Sadly I didn’t get her recipes. As a child, my only interest in cooking was eating the results. I found food preparation tedious and/or disgusting. I couldn’t be bothered waiting for water to boil. I wanted nothing to do with meat in its raw form. I had no desire to chop, blend, grate, or grind. So aside from making cheesecakes, I didn’t cook with her.
I did get my mother’s (sometimes mischievous) sense of humor. She loved to laugh, and I loved to laugh with her. When I was really young, I thought it was absolutely hysterical to ambush her when she was sitting on the bed, knock her down, lift up her shirt, and administer a very sloppy zerbert to her belly (or her neck, if her stomach was inaccessible).
My mother gave me her faith, and then she gave me the building blocks to develop my own. I watched her nurture her relationship with God. She devoured the Bible — even the boring Old Testament “begat…begat…begat” parts. She went to church every day there was a service, but she wasn’t legalistic. She expressed her faith by living it — happy to share her beliefs with anyone who was curious. Jehovah Witnesses soon learned it was futile to knock on our door. And Catholics were asked to reconsider their fascination with Mary. She always had a tune on the tip of her tongue, and often burst into songs of praise. And when she sang, she sang off tune, but she wasn’t apologetic or self-conscious. She sang with exuberant volume — with a heart attuned to love, not preoccupied with achieving a pitch perfect sound — even, and much to my chagrin, in public.
My mother gave me a window into her childhood — yearly sending me to the island of her birth. I spent my young summers in a small nook of the Caribbean full of beautiful beaches, kind people, fragrant air, strong sunshine, succulent fruits, divine food, and persistent mosquitoes. Grenada, “the spice isle.” And every time I went, I imagined what she was like at my age — who she was and who she had become.
My mother taught me how to pick fruits and meats. She taught me how to pray and why I should tithe. She was wise with her money — never letting frugality separate her from quality. My mother taught me self-confidence by example. She embraced her natural beauty — perfect skin that shone from within — brown like polished mahogany. She didn’t need or want to face the world covered in makeup. She didn’t diet to fit someone else’s mold. She never lied or dyed to hide her age — if anything, she’d round up.
My mother gave me the freedom to be who I was. She didn’t hem me in. She didn’t smother-mother me. She embraced me with her love and support while encouraging my autonomy. She consistently nudged me beyond my comfort zone. She didn’t allow me to be lazy, helpless, or uninformed — making sure I’d grow up into a woman who could take care of herself — a woman who valued her independence. She encouraged me to dream big and set my feet about seeing the world. She taught me prudence, perseverance, and responsibility. She saw trials or tests as temporary and blessings as tastes of a good eternity.
My mother and father valued knowledge and education. They made it a financial priority (sometimes to the point of sacrifice) to ensure that my siblings and I attended the best schools. There was a poster that hung in the dining room (also known as Dad’s office): “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.” They didn’t give me the answers; they encouraged me to find them. If I asked what a word meant, they made me look it up. There was no getting parental help with projects or homework — not in our house. We were to become self-sufficient learners — not just capable of robotic regurgitation, but understanding. They wanted us to see education as its own reward.
My mother filled my mind with wonderful memories — memories of the kind of woman she was — full of faith, life, wisdom, and love. I remember the jokes and stories she told, the advice she gave, and the security she provided. I remember that her arms were the safest place to cry and that I couldn’t have nightmares in her bed. Memories of her ebb and flow like a mental tide. I wear her wedding ring on my right hand, but I don’t have anything that smells like her anymore. I cherish those memories that unexpectedly sneak up from the back of my mind and present themselves for recollection. Sometimes they make me cry. Sometimes they make me smile. Always they make me miss her. There are so many memories that I want to hold on to, so many I fear I’ll lose like a hand grasping at sand. But even if I forget them all, I will always have her brown, almond-shaped eyes, and I will never cease to be her daughter.
A version of this piece originally appeared on the blog Write Away.