A photo on my Facebook Newsfeed last week of a “vintage stove” took me back to early childhood and a Saturday night ritual, shared with my mother, that lasted until I was about 12-years-old.
Saturday evenings were a special time reserved only for “mama and me.” No, it was not baking cookies, cakes or a special family recipe on a stove similar to the one pictured. To be honest, mama was not the typical homemaker of the 1950s. Mama was the breadwinner and I was her only child.
For all practical purposes, she was a single mother and the sole provider of our shelter, food, and clothing. Mama was able to do this by working six days a week and walking for eight hours around a long table collating pages at a bookbindery. Most days, she came home, after sitting on a bus and train for one hour, worn out and exhausted.
But, a nourishing meal was always on the table for the two of us with the exception of Saturday. This day was reserved for “mama and me.” She would cook either hot dogs or hamburgers along with fries; and, she never forgot to bring home our dessert of choice, butter pecan ice cream.
A “gourmet” cook she wasn’t, but growing up in rural Mississippi, my mama mastered the art of “pleasure loving” soul food cooking. She never used a recipe; and, I am grateful she took the time to teach her Chicago-reared daughter the ins and outs of cooking southern style.
Loved the special meal mama cooked on Saturday nights. Hated, her obsession with my hair. Saturday mornings, she never failed, before leaving for work to wash and braid my long, thick, coarse hair in preparation for the “mama and me” time I hated.
See, in those times, no self-respecting mother would send her child to Sunday School with a “nappy” head. So, Saturday night was dedicated to straightening my hair. Looking back, it was a laborious task for both “mama and me.” She placed a chair in front of the stove for me to sit on. The hated straightening comb was pulled out and placed on the stove burner.
Mama would begin by taking down the first of my 6-8 braids. She used a large tooth plastic comb to untangle that section of my hair. Once untangled, she separated into even smaller sections of hair and lightly applied Royal Crown Hair Dressing.
Then, she would put a dab of saliva on her fingertip, lightly touch the straightening comb to make sure it was not too hot. You see, a hot straightening comb could scorch the hair. While, I don’t recall mama ever scorching my hair, I do remember burns on my ear, forehead, scalp and sometimes the neck. On those rare occasions, mama would say, “I told you to keep your head straight. “ Yes, I often would fidget or nap during the 1 to 1½ hour process it took to straighten my hair..
“Mama and me” Saturday nights are amongst my most treasured memories. Who I am today is due to the lessons learned from “mama” on hair straightening nights.
My mama went to her final resting place on December 8, 1967, four months after undergoing surgery to correct a heart problem. The heart surgery was successful, but she suffered irreversible brain damage due to anesthesia complications. Mama was only 42-years-old.
Letter to Mama
I know you worried when I married. After all, I was only 17-years-old, quickly had two children, and we struggled as a young couple. Things worked out. In our mid-twenties, JT and I enrolled in a top-ten university and earned our college degrees. We are both retired; and April 11, we will celebrate our 53rd wedding anniversary.
Your three grandchildren, now middle aged, are running our family-owned medical practice and ambulatory surgery center.
- grandson, KA, is responsible for marketing and referring physician relations.
- granddaughter, PY, is an anesthesiologist and pain physician and serves as the medical director.
- granddaughter, KO, who carries your name, is an attorney and serves as the administrator and legal counsel.
Mama, you also have five great-grandchildren:
- EM, male, 22-years-old, senior in college;
- CY, female, 21-years-old, sophomore in college;
- GK, male, 17-years-old, junior in high school;
- CJ, male, 13-years-old, seventh grader in middle school; and
- AN, girl, 4-years-old, in pre-school.
Mama, thank you for creating the foundation that led to our building a strong family structure. Rest In Peace. All is well with us.
“I thought that I would miss you so, and never find my way.
And then I heard an angel say, “She’s with you everyday.
The sun, the moon, the wind, the stars, will forever be
around, reminding you of the love you shared and
the peace she’s finally found.” (unknown)