Naturally, I learned to call my guardian angel “Mama,” as all of the children in her household, six or seven, if I recall correctly, would call her “Mama,” although I don’t believe she was their natural mother, rather grandmother to most, perhaps the natural mother of the older teenagers, but non-the-less, raising each of them on her own, providing shelter, food, clothing, and a firm hand to keep them in line and respectful. When I began to call her “Mama” as well, she never once corrected me, and so from that day on, she became my “Mama.”
Mama took me in as if I was her own child, and as far as I can remember, each day when my sobs would calm after the school bus pulled away with my brothers and sister, I would walk the three blocks or so to “Mama’s” house, walk in and make myself at home, and of course talking her head off with my non-stop chatter and questions. Mama was often grieved by my appearance upon arriving at her house in the mornings or in the afternoons. I never realized it at the time, but in thinking back to some of the sad, worried expressions that would cross her face, I know now that she was sad that I had no real mama at home who cared to know where I was, at the age of four and five, whether I had a hot meal, clean clothes, shoes on my feet or a bath to wash away the dirt and grime each day. “Poor child,” she would say, “ when’s your mama gonna give you youngins a bath and put some clothes on your that scrawny little body of yours?” I don’t recall not having any clothes, but I do remember being taken, more often than not, down the hall to the bathroom, stripped naked and plopped into a hot bath and scrubbed raw to get every inch of dirt and grime out of my hair, my skin, feet, and anywhere Mama thought was not squeaky clean. She would wrap me in a great big fluffy towel that always smelled like soap and then carry me to one of the kids’ rooms where she would pull out pair of pants, as close fitting as possible, and a t-shirt. Sometimes Mama would even try on a pair of shoes and order me never to lose them or I’d have my hide tanned sharp! Unfortunately, the shoes often disappeared or were forgotten here or there, and soon Mama would shake her head and even cry, I believe, holding me in her lap as she rocked in an old wooden rocking chair on the porch. “I can’t provide you anymore shoes baby,” she would say. “I gives you what I can, breakfast, lunch, dinner, anything your need, but I have no money enough to keep putting clothes on you or shoes neither and clothing my own yungins too.”
I didn’t understand at the time why it grieved her so deeply that she could not do more for me than she did. I thought she was sent from heaven and was perfect. I would usually pat her cheek, and ask her to tell me what it was like in heaven, because I knew she was an angel and had to have met God and everything. With her soft, southern accent, Mama would tell me that in Heaven, Jesus was making plans for me. And that he had sent many angels to watch over me and TJ, because with the life we lived, God knew we needed extra angels to watch over and protect us. As she would talk in that soothing voice of her’s, I often fell asleep in her arms, her soft pillowy body so warm and so comforting, her words always so tender and so loving. I wanted so badly for Mama to keep me. I remember asking her if I could stay and be her little girl, and she laughed this deep barrel of a laugh, her belly shaking and her old, leathery hands slapping her knees. When she finally composed herself, she looked at me and said, “now baby, I luvs you like you my own baby girl, but I’m as black as that black cat there” pointing at her cat, “and you is as white and freckly as they come! Don’t you know nobody gonna let me keep you as my yungin?” I believe if society at the time wasn’t so narrow minded and ignorant, Mama would have done what she could to take me in as her own, but each day at the same time in the afternoons, as the school bus dropped off Mike, Angie, and TJ, Mama would hurry me off to home and tell me to behave for my brother and sister and not to get into trouble or she’d hear of it and tan my hide. I never wanted to disappoint Mama, for her love and attention was all that I ever received, and I was so afraid that if I ever made her upset, she’d tell me to go away and never come back. Today, of course, I know this to be the exact opposite, for there were many things I did with TJ that frustrated Mama and often had her complaining of negligent parents, who didn’t even know they had their own child starving for attention so much so that we would do good or bad for someone to take notice.
I’m not exactly sure how much time had passed, whether one year or more, maybe not even that long at all, but one day I recall going to Mama’s house from the bus stop and she sending me home right away, saying that my mother was calling all the neighbors looking for me, that she was about to leave without me and she was not about to stick around and wait for me to get my butt home. I remember the worried look on Mama’s face, how she crinkled her eyebrows together, and how she stood at the edge of her walkway, watching me make my way home. I turned around once and saw her standing there, wiping her eyes, and I stopped for a moment, not sure of why she seemed so worried and so sad. I remember walking a few more feet and then turning around to run back to her. This was the last time I would ever see Mama or feel her embrace. Her tears soaked my cheeks and I pleaded with her not to cry. I remember putting each of my hands, one on each of her wet, soggy cheeks, and shaking my head and telling her, “poor baby, don’t cry. What’s wrong, baby, what’s wrong?” A perfect imitation of how she would comfort me on days when I would still have tears on my own cheeks from the bus taking my brothers and sister away.