My Mom wanted to be a pharmacist. I found this out around the time I was in 6th grade and I’m not sure I knew exactly how to feel about it. She also wanted to play baseball (maybe it was softball) and she wanted to sing. You could go down to the school yard and play baseball or softball anytime if you had enough friends and you didn’t even have to leave the comfort of your own bedroom to sing. I didn’t know at the time what inconveniences one had to go through to do what pharmacists do.
The thing that stayed with me was the way my Mom shared these “dreams” of hers. It was as if it was too late for her to do them. As a kid, I was told I could be anything I wanted as long as I worked hard enough. In America, dreams could come true if you just gave it your all. Did my Mom just not give it her all? She always seemed to be in the process of making things happen, certainly she could make these things happen. She was an adult and in my 12 year old mind, adults could do whatever they wanted.
As a kid I was selfish, self centered and focused on my own needs - I do realize this is three ways to say the same thing and I was all three and more. All kids are this way to a certain extent, constantly thinking if not declaring, “I want this!”, “I want to do that!" or “What about me?”.
Actually, it’s not just kids - I declared two of those things just this morning.
Maybe the only thing that changes as kids grow up is who meets the “needs” that they have and fulfills their wants. When kids are young, it is the responsibility of their parents or guardians to meet their needs and to teach them how to meet their own needs as they grow older. As kids mature, they begin to take on that responsibility themselves with training and guidance from their parents, older siblings, teachers and others.
My Mom was pretty good at guiding us. She taught us and gave us responsibility at a young age. By the time I was in the 6th grade, I was ironing my own clothes if I didn’t want to wear wrinkled ones. This is also around the time my siblings and I began to wash our own clothes. We probably went to the laundromat at times and may have even had a washing machine that worked from time to time, but I remember the bathtub washing machine which ran without using electricity. Our arms and hands provided the power for that device which most people called a washboard.
We began doing dishes as soon as we were tall enough to stand at the kitchen sink and reach the faucets. Cleaning our room was always a major feat for us so it would go uncleaned for days and my Mom refused to clean it for us. I can remember the time some neighbors we were arguing or fighting with saw how dirty our room was through our window and the feeling of embarrassment as they laughed and teased us makes me cringe when I think about it. I am not sure if we became any more consistent with cleaning our room as much as we became more committed to making sure no one outside of our household ever saw it.
My mom played learning games with us using the dictionary and her and my Dad were always reading one book or another. We were expected to do our homework and it seemed there was always something that needed to be bought. Binders, notebooks, paper, pencils, school clothes, shoes, science fair supplies, etc. This was nonstop for us four older kids and then the youngest came along seven years later with additional needs: diapers, formula, clothes, doctor visits, etc.
I remember when all four of us older kids ended up with chicken pox at the same time. My Mom did whatever she could to soothe us with salve and who knows what else. We were miserable and my Mom likely lost a lot of sleep during this itchy, irritable, cranky week.
My mom did odd jobs at the house when we were young like ironing clothes for people and babysitting my cousins and at some point between the 4th and 5th kid, my Mom re-entered the official work force again and would come home and cook dinner for everybody. A while after kid number 5 was born, she returned to work again and was still cooking dinner nightly.
My Mom also did fun stuff with family and friends. She started bowling in a league and not too long after, us kids were also in a Saturday morning bowling league. Fees had to be paid, bowlers dropped off and picked up and there was a burgundy league shirt we had to wear every Saturday that had be purchased, cleaned and maintained. We did other activities that required my Mom’s involvement and I remember one that my sister participated in called the Escoolites.
The Escoolites were a girls' drill team type group that my older sister Lori and a few cousins were members of. I always thought the team name was Escolites but as I was researching this I found out they spelled it with two O’s. They learned and practiced their routines at Manual High School in Denver and performed around town at parades and other events. They even traveled to Washington DC to perform in the Cherry Blossom Parade. I remember their green and white outfits complete with afro wig and green beret. The kicker though was the white cowboy boots (sorta) with a green tassel dangling from the tops. Every last item my sister wore had to be paid for, washed and ironed and kept in good shape. Every practice and performance required her to be dropped off and picked up and who knows how in the world my parent’s afforded her trip to DC?
Where did my Mom get the time and energy to do all this and teach us how to begin doing things for ourselves? In 5th grade, I added to my parents already full plate by refusing to go to school on days when I just wasn’t feeling it. Talking to me, scolding me and whipping me did not resolve the situation and I didn’t have the self reflective wherewithal to express what was going on. All I knew was that I just could not take going to school on some days. I can only guess about the difficulty my parent’s had as they decided what to do with me and whether to seek outside assistance and ultimately, my Mom took me to speak with someone. I don’t know who or what he was but it was at the health clinic so I concluded he was a Dr. which again meant more time and more money!!! I don’t remember much about the visits or if it was only a one time thing, but I ended up passing the 5th grade with enough attendance and sufficient grades so there may have been a benefit.
There were five kids in our house and all five of us including my Dad wanted, needed, and yearned for stuff all the time. We were sick at times, mad sometimes, sad here and there, disappointed occasionally and excited about one thing or another and my Mom was usually the one involved in addressing these ups and downs in our lives. This was in addition to working at her paying job and her role as a wife, a friend, a sister, a daughter, a reader (books were everywhere in our house), a bowler and whatever else she did that I am unaware of.
Moms really are amazing! I know mine is and I am so grateful that she required us to do chores, allowed and encouraged us to participate in activities, got help when I was more than she could manage and most of all show us what love looks and feels like. I think about her devotion to my Dad and how she was there for him in so many ways from the time they met at the hotel they both worked in to the times he needed her more than ever to assist him as his health deteriorated. There is so much more about her that goes into the significance she played and still plays in our lives and I would not be the man I am today without her.
I now know what I learned in elementary school during the early 70's about the American Dream and the myth of being able to attain whatever you want if you just work hard enough applied mostly to white people. Some would say little has changed even now fifty years later. Becoming a pharmacist as a black woman in 1960 was a whole different ball game than it was in the 1980’s when I went to college (another thing I wanted to do that my Mom helped make possible financially and through her belief in me). Becoming a pharmacist in any decade requires a lot of sacrifice. There’s all that goes into getting the undergraduate degree, then more schooling to earn the doctorate and having the money to pay for it all (scholarships and grants were few and far between in the 1950’s and 60’s).
The time, energy and money my Mom invested in providing us with a foundation to build on combined with her intelligence would have earned her two or three doctorates. When you consider all the home remedies and life advice she’s modeled and shared and the fact that she's spent her adult life filling our prescriptions for love, compassion, discipline, guidance and joy, she may not have become the pharmacist she envisioned but she definitely became the pharmacist our family needed. Sometimes we fulfill our dreams in ways unseen to us until we look back at the trail of dream dust sprinkled on the lives we've touched along the way.
Thanks Mom for all you are, all you did and all you continue to do.
Happy Mother’s Day!