Updated: Oct 16, 2020
Eileen Lorraine Burrell, you became a mother during the 3rd month of 1962 and you gave birth to an additional 4 children over the course of a decade.
As you know, I have never been a parent to a human child. Yeah we feed Alba & Honey and take them to the vet and they need us to provide a safe space for them but it is difficult for me to imagine what it’s like to have 5 human beings that are relying on you for their every need. You and my Dad chose to feed us, clothe us, shelter us, comfort us, nurture us, guide us, discipline us, keep us safe and love us.
I remember the house where all of this parenting took place: 2650 Jasmine street. We lived in that house until I finished 5th grade. I have a lot of memories from that period of my life even if there is a lot I don’t recollect. We figured out how to fit 6 people and later 7 people into 2 bedrooms, 1 bathroom, a living room and a kitchen. I remember the patio with a built in storage shed on the back of the house and a chain link fence that bordered the alley to the east. We were not far from what was then Stapleton Airport and planes flew overhead all the time. You’d think we’d go crazy with the annoying sound of jets every single day. But when I look back on it, we managed to do what we’d witness you doing all the time: Take your situation and make the best of it. So we turned it into a game where we would see who could beat the planes from the curb out front to the fence in the back. No wonder we would bring home so many blue ribbons on field day, we raced airplanes! In similar fashion we’d create other games using what we had at our disposal. I remember my dad showed us how to play Jacks with just rocks and I was fascinated by that ingenuity.
For the longest time when I would talk to people about growing up I would tell them how lucky we were to have you as a stay at home mom. It was only in my late twenties that I found out that the reason Kenneth, Deneen and Dennis were over so often is because you were babysitting them as a “job” and recently I found out you were doing other side jobs then as well. I will always believe that ending the school day and coming home to you meeting us at the door was something that made a huge difference in our lives.
Do you remember the game “Categories”. I don’t know where it came from or who introduced it to us but I think it started out as something to do to keep us from getting bored while on a drive or waiting in the car for someone to come out of the store. It went from a replacement for boredom to something we really liked to play. It was challenging both physically and mentally because you had to keep a beat with your hands and speak on beat when it was your turn and you had to keep coming up with things that fit into a particular category without repeating what any other player said. Genius!
Talk about teaching us to think under pressure. I still like to play it but my old ass friends don’t find it nearly as fun as I do so I haven’t played it in a while.
You would also test our spelling and vocabulary by challenging us with random words out of the dictionary. I remember my fourth grade teacher asking us who knew what some of the longest words in the english language are. Up shot my hand because you had taught us 2 of the longest words years before: Antidisestablishmentarianism and Supercalifragilisticexpialodocious.
We’d also watch the game show Jeopardy and see if we could state the question before the in studio contestants could. I don’t know if all of us kids enjoyed these "games" but I loved being able to show off my skill and I also really enjoyed learning new words or having to think quickly and categorically. You made learning fun.
You and Aunt Leona spoke in a secret code when y'all didn't want us to know what you were talking about. How cool is that! You later taught us the 2 "languages" y'all spoke and we used it when we wanted to keep things confidential. It made us feel special and in a way, gave us a sense of pride. We may not have had much in the material realm but we had a way to communicate out in the open that only we could understand. That's some Boss sh*t right there!
You also told stories about the elders in our family and this helped shape our values. You spoke about Uncle Eddie and Aunt Vera and described with utmost respect the many adventures you had with our great grandmother who you and your sisters called “Mama”. You spoke of her with love and appreciation. You spoke about getting whooped, being encouraged and feeling loved.
You spoke about Uncle Roy looking out for y’all and helping out as you pursued your dreams of singing with your sisters. They were stories of appreciation and gratitude along with the cautionary tales about other people being greedy or selfish or about y’all being punished for some infraction and you shared the lessons y’all learned from it.
You told us stories about Dis and Dat. Two fictional brothers who's lives were based on reality and who overcame monumental challenges by working together and having each other's backs.
You told us you had always wanted to be a pharmacist at a time when we didn’t even know what a pharmacist was. You spoke about how it would allow you to help people. You spoke about how fascinating you found the science of pharmacy and how noble the profession was. You didn’t use the word noble but when I think back about it, you spoke about it as being something important and aspirational. Pharmacists have to earn a degree and what they do requires intelligence and attention to detail. When we asked why you didn’t become a pharmacist, you simply said the family couldn’t afford for you to go to college. No bitterness. No Pity-party. No blame. You grew up having to go to school without lunch money yet you dared to dream so boldly. This was not lost on me.
As far back as I can remember, I knew I was going to go to college. I too began with aspirational career goals. I wanted to be an architect. I wanted to go to the Olympics. I wanted to become a teacher. I can’t help but connect your dreams which you shared with us to my dreams which you helped nurture and manifest.
Stories of y’all performing inspired us. Stories of y’all breaking rules and paying the price cautioned us. Stories about your dreams motivated us. Stories of your grandmother going without so y’all would have, shaped us.
You know more than anyone that we were not perfect kids. We got our share of “whoopins” and “talkings to” and even with all of the headaches I’m sure we caused you, never did you demean us or curse us. You somehow managed to convince us that the discipline you metered out was done in love. It didn’t seem like love as you pulled us out from underneath beds with a belt in your hand but somehow we knew that if you didn’t care you probably wouldn’t go through the trouble.
You gave us tools to navigate this crazy world we live in and of course it’s crazier now than it’s ever been. You taught us well. We look out for each other and we look out for you and to some extent because of your example, we look out for those who aren’t able to look out for themselves.
You have always been an amazing mother and you continue to love us with the same care and respect that you always have.
As you enjoy this annual day of honor, please know that I honor you daily and there is nothing more that I’d like to do than be with you today and play categories and watch jeopardy and fall asleep on y’alls couch.
Can we do that next time I see you?
Happy Mother’s Day Mom!