An excerpt from my ever-evolving memoir…..
. . . I needed permission. I didn’t typically disturb my mother on her job by habit. I knew that I could only call her for something of great importance and the times I did call, I dialed the number slowly so I could confirm that it was indeed an emergency.
This day I needed a permission slip signed and my coach was waiting. I forgot about it, between studies, extra-curricular activities, and a weekend job, getting her signature on a piece of paper was the least of my worries. Normally, I’d just sign it myself but today instinct told me to go and see her.
As I approached the restaurant, I immediately headed to the rear walking past the front entrance. I took a deep breath, smiled and waved politely to the woman behind the cash register.
She didn’t wave back.
I felt my shoulders sink but I kept walking. Reaching the back of the restaurant, I heard the clanging of pots and plates and the soft murmur of voices. The smell was at odds, in one whiff I caught the aroma of fried shrimp and clams, and in the other I caught rotted food. I took shallow breaths and banged on the screen door.
A full-figured woman approached and waved me in. “How you baby?” she greeted and reached over giving me a bear hug. “Lemme get yo’ mama fo’ you, ‘kay?” Small beads of sweat were at attention on her almond-colored forehead. She took a rag off her hip to wipe them away.
“Eva, yo’ daughter by da back doe’,” she turned and waved one last time. “Gud seein’ you baby.”
I caught my mother’s eye. She furrowed her brows. I knew what she was thinking: what in the hell was I doing there?
“Mama…” I began but before I could finish she walked toward me and with one scoop of my arm we were outside.
“I need this permission slip signed for school,” I said quietly, holding the paper out for her to see.
“This couldn’t wait ‘til I got home?” she snapped, there was an acidic tone in her voice.
“Coach said she needs it by this afternoon,” I pleaded.
“I told you about coming down to my job,” she said between her teeth. She peered over her shoulder at the back door. “Look, I’ll be working a double shift. . . “
Just then we had an audience – it was the woman from behind the cash register, Miss Doreen, her boss.
“Everything alright, Eva?” she said coolly in a slow southern drawl.
In the south we tend to put “Miss” in front of an adult female’s name regardless of age. Believe me, Miss Doreen out grew the title “Miss” about a century ago. Her skin looked coarse from countless hours of unprotected tanning, lipstick was too bright, hair pulled high in a bun, shirt cut way too low, and the pièce de résistance: the biggest gaudiest ring on planet Earth.
She waved her hand deliberately as if to fan her face – honestly I think she just wanted us to see the god-awful thing.
“Now which one is this?” she spoke dryly pointing her brightly painted nail and that ring-thing in my direction.
“This is Cece, my A-student, Miss Sidity,” mama chuckled.
“Oh! So nice to see you again, Cece. You ‘bout ready fo’ tha summer?”
“Well if you need a job, I’m sho’ we can find something here for you…”
“Ummm no Miss Doreen,” Mama interrupted her. “Not for Cece.”
We locked eyes.
“Miss Doreen, I’ll be there in a minute,” Mama took me by the hand this time and walked me to the side of the building.
“I’ll be home by 11 tonight; y’all make sandwiches or go to your grandmother’s house.” She starts walking back to the door.
“I need your signature,” I gently reminded her waving the paper.
“You sign it, I don’t care. Now go!” And she disappeared back into the restaurant.
I often think about that day behind the restaurant. Being 15 at the time I felt dismissed and hurt. Thinking about it now as a mother, I realize she was trying to protect me. She wanted more for me. I think she knew that if I took an offer to settle in that regard, that I’d keep on settling for the rest of my life. Granted, we didn’t have the best relationship but she loved me in her way.
Truth is, she worked long hours, got little sleep, made little money and neglected herself in the process. I use to wonder if she worked so much to avoid us (there were after all 6 kids in the house); or was it that she knew that if she didn’t get things done, they wouldn’t get done or maybe it was a combination of both.
Today, I’m thankful to my mother and others like her who sacrificed and endured the Miss Doreens and stinky kitchens of the world so we don’t have to. Happy Mother’s Day everyone.
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