Momma, I DO Try To Make You Proud
You cannot be a truly good Southern boy and not love your Momma and your Mamaw. That’s just fact. I hear so many people these days talk about their mothers in such negative terms. I think that’s just a crime – a TRAVESTY – if you will. Mommas may not always be the best people, but that’s because they are probably not Southern. I didn’t say all Mommas were perfect. But I implied that nearly all Southern-bred, born-and-raised Mommas are! (Because they just are…)
All of that leads me to the very interesting and intriguing task that I currently have at hand – I am sitting down and actually, on purpose, writing a sweet and true blog about my Momma. I didn’t want to at first, because she and I are SO much alike. It’s difficult to examine a thing and to want to describe it in both glory and gory detail – only to realize that you might as well be looking into a very, very magnified and high-definition mirror. So, I tend to focus on my Momma’s best qualities and her funny antics… because that’s what I like best about my own.
Truthfully, I almost made this blog more like an ode or a haiku-based thing. But, my Momma deserves a little more than that. Oh, my stories are just full of her mischief and her particular brand of homespun goodness. She’s a handful, and she’s sassy and spoiled. But she is one of the biggest parts of my heart and I love her. So, Momma, as MUCH as I rag on you, and tell ALL of our business, this one is just for you:
LaNita Sue was born and raised in Smith County, Mississippi. She was a princess. She was the incredibly gifted and talented first child AND grandchild of two sets of families. My grandfather was the eldest of his siblings, and the patriarch of our two families. And my grandmother was the eldest of her siblings, and the undisputed matriarch of her family. So, my Momma, was in fact born pretty much a princess. If hardworking, truck-driving, plantation-farmer’s daughters can be a princess. (They can. They most certainly can.) Yes, they had the country house, and yes, my Papaw James was a man that could make some money and put food on the table and sable on his daughter’s back, but it was a simple life. Now, that’s not to say it wasn’t without its ups and downs, but it was a good life – a simple, southern, good life.
Trust me, in this family and as one of the children of a child that had this kind of upbringing, that’s easier said than done to have a good, simple, southern life. We are all characters and we are all head strong, proud and independently CO-dependent on one another. But let’s face it, life can be more welcoming and certainly more genteel when your daddy has land and chunk of change; you have a sable; you are a talented debutante; and you sweep the categories in your high school’s “Most…” list every year. (That’s not an embellishment or an exaggeration.) I still, STILL, laugh and cherish my mother’s Senior High School Yearbook. She won every single thing. (Well, everything but friendliest. Some bitch won that one - I’m sure she’s not a bitch, but that marred the record.) And you have to understand, my mother is one those incredible people that can light up a room, just by being there. She is funny, she is personable, and she is exciting. But she is “unavailable”. My mother once explained to me that she was perfectly happy getting Miss Congeniality instead of Friendliest.
“Why wouldn’t you want that, too?” I asked, incredulous that her competitive nature had waned. I know that personally, my competitive nature in High School and College was spot on. I wanted to be in everything. I wanted to be INVOLVED in everything. And I was. If I wasn’t, I usually found out where, when, why, who, and how.
“Well, son, because with one, you just had to have manners and act like you were raised right”, she instructed. “You don’t have to actually care or listen to people drone on and on and on…”
That is the essence of it. That is almost the essence of her. And it was a lesson that stuck. You can give and give and give, but you have to save something for you. You have to take care of yourself and ensure that you save something to rejuvenate and regenerate with… so, that you can give more again later. (She also taught me this lesson spiritually later on in life when she and I would talk about singing, playing, and praying for people.) Still, I was floored. I know I’M competitive and I love recognition. But she won Miss BHS, Best Dressed, Most Popular, Most Talented, Most Congenial, She was Prom Queen, Homecoming Queen. I mean, the lady had a skill set that was IMPRESSIVE.
And to give credit where it truly belongs, my Mamaw Sue had a lot to do with that. My Grand Great Aunt Myrt (short for Myrtis) and my grandmother raised my mother. My grandmother was a go-getter for the 1940’s. She was not a stay-at-home wife and mother. She was an original Steel Magnolia. Faced with a husband in the war, and when he returned partially disabled. She hiked up her skirts and she found out exactly how to survive. She was a surgical nurse, she worked at a plant, and she helped on my grandfather’s farm. She was quite a woman. And she got her Aunt to move in and help with my mother, and eventually, my sister, and then, with me. She helped make my mother the debutante she became. I just wanted those women to get the props that they deserved for helping to not only create, but shape and celebrate the woman my mother would become. In hearing my Momma reminisce about those times, you can tell she was loved, and happy.
And later, as with all princesses, they get courted. They get suitors, and they get chased. My mother was no exception. She had her share of men that wanted to date her. And her parents were pretty careful about who they would let her date. However, Momma eventually found Daddy. She met, fell in love with, and married my natural father. Like any good woman, she knew her place and immediately set up a house and began having babies… I’m JUST kidding. I just wanted to make sure you, Reader, were awake and paying attention the words I actually put out. No, Momma was kind of progressive for a child of the 50’s/60’s. She totally started her own beauty salon business and was the bread winner. Now, my Dad was no slacker – there was a reason she was attracted to him. Dad’s family had some money, but nothing major, but his father owned his own mechanic business. My paternal grandmother was an impressively beautiful and exotic creature. She and I were not what I would consider “close”, but she was a woman to be reckoned with. Her style and lifestyle were legendary around the town they lived in, and my grandfather took care of her and kept her happy. My father, Dad had inherited his mother’s good looks, charm, and wit. Dad was definitely funny. He was quick witted, and he knew how to work and make a dollar. He has done everything from drive a truck to work in a plant, to start his own brokerage. The man has a mind on him. Or did, but that’s a different story and another tale.
So, much like Pac-Man, and Ms. Pac-Man, they meet, they fall in love…
…they produce amazing children. Now, I was not present for the birth of my older sister Dawne or any other siblings, really. I can only speculate and define what I know from MY childhood with my mother. I am my mother’s baby. THE baby. The BABY! And I love it. I love that for her, I am the one that broke the mold, that was the end all be all of what she thought she could create. And I have a feeling, I was not expected. J Not at accident, per se, just… a surprise. But, what a damn awesome surprise! I know my other brothers, sisters, and steps, halfs, everyone really… they roll their eyes, they groan, but they know it: I am spoiled. And I was the baby child on one family, the ONLY boy on the other, and the BABY BOY on another. That kind of status brings POWER, bitches. Recognize. I. Love. Every. Minute. Of. It.
In conversations with my oldest sister Dawne, she and Momma were not very close when she was little. According to them both, at times there were just tons of conflict. I can’t imagine why!! Dawne was a very headstrong, independent, and opinionated child. I mean, seriously, two alpha females are never going to get along perfectly. It just doesn’t happen. Dawne and Momma have always been… complicated. However, now that we are all grown adults and people have children of their own; we all get along, and we all laugh about all of the struggle. But going through it always seems harder than the memory of the pain or the… conflict,.. or the appearance of things. I am very grateful and even somewhat relieved that they are so close now. Jealous? Eh, normally, I’d find a way to be the favorite, but Dawne does deserve some LaNita quality time. It can make you feel like you are the center of the universe when our Momma turns that smile on you and asks you questions about your life and is truly interested in you. It makes you feel safe, and happy, and warm. I’ve had that my entire life from her. Hell, I learned at her feet how to be just like her and how to make others feel that way. So, no… I’m not jealous that Dawne gets that now. I am thrilled.
All of that being said, and it being truly – just what it is – I had a very, very nearly ideallic childhood. Now, there are moments in my childhood that are hilarious. Moments that are embarrassing for my mother (the time I chose to use the bathroom in the parking lot at church during a softball game because “they wouldn’t take me to the bathroom”) Or times I think made me trust people less. (Like the time that both Momma and Daddy thought the other one had me and left me at church on the pew asleep). There are times that are sad. (when we lost Mamaw Claire (great grandmother) and when my father lost my Papaw Burl). When there were deaths, when there births, when there were just any happenings… Our Family always were there. We were there for literally everything. We were there for graduations, for hospitals, for parties. I can say I grew up RIGHT. My Momma took me everywhere with her. Not very many baby sitters, not very many times my parents went places that they couldn’t just throw me on a hip, and I went to. Even as a small child, I can remember the bands and quartets my Momma played in. She could sing, she could play, she could talk. She was just very, very talented. I can remember the people coming to the house for dinner, drinks, and to sit around and sing and play. It was pretty amazing to sit at the feet of some pretty awesomely talented people. That was one of the first times I learned how to dance. People in the living room, playing music, and Momma had little boy me stand on her feet and sway. She told me that my Daddy didn’t have anything on my dancing. I remember that clearly. She had a way of making me feel like I was the only child. It was rare, because it’s hard to get her full attention, but when you do… everything else goes away for a while and you sit there and just want more of it.
This kind of life was the norm. It was beautiful. It was fun. At least for a while… Then they divorced. I didn’t understand the concept of divorce when I was little. I was precocious. I was smart. And I was kind of a smart ass, but I wasn’t very “deep” emotionally. I mainly focused on me. (Some might say that not very much has changed.) My father was, like I said, a beautiful and charming man, but he was also a whore. A man slut. He was just not great at being present for others. (I inherited that quality – I have to fight against it EVERY single day) and he was just not a great husband to her, or a father to me. He loved us. Yes, he did. He is a man of dreams and wants and he envisions (in conversations) of being a hands on great dad, but the reality is that he just isn’t. Unless you can benefit him. So, clearly, here… she showed that she was only human and could make mistakes. Don’t get me wrong, I am glad they met and had sex, and made me. But, my Lord and God, could two people have ever been more wrong for one another. They were both popular and beautiful. They were Mr. And Mrs. Everything. But they were both selfish and spoiled people that just didn’t need to be together, at least after years of my father and his shenanigans. I am so grateful that God saw fit to let them divorce when I was young and still allow my Momma to bloom and blossom and eventually follow her path to something that made her perfectly happy!
I have to be nekkid honest with you, Reader. Growing up, I can’t say that I ever had a great male role model, No great father figure. I was confused about my own father, because I didn’t have the emotional capacity to reconcile words and actions. It never dawned on me that people lied or that you couldn’t say what you meant. Guile and little white lies didn’t really exist for me until my parents’ divorce. I had always said exactly what I thought. I got my ass whipped quite a bit (for instance, when I interrupted church to let my mother know while she was on the piano that the bathroom was out of toilet paper, and I needed to be wiped before we could go on with service), but I was a mischievous and willful child. I never exactly “clicked” with my natural father because, he expected people to give him his way and be in awe (this, sadly, is not an exaggeration or embellishment. He would bark at people and Dawne and my younger half sisters just acted like that was the end of the world). I just never was. My sister WORSHIPPED him during childhood, and up to her teen years. Don’t get me wrong, I loved and still love my Daddy, but I just never saw the big deal with him after the divorce. It was the first time I can remember an adult lying to me to my face and expecting me to believe them just because I was little. I was eight years old and I cried because he really thought I was going to just buy into it. My first great heartbreak and my first taste of disappointment when adults don’t quite act like adults. And then I had a pretty shitty first stepfather. I’ll tell that story one day. Momma and I have agreed I can tell it one day when we both reconcile all of our emotions about some of the things that happened. This is why I still don’t trust male authority figures to this day. Through no fault of her own, she gave me situations where I had to learn to be my own person (even more than I was). And to be honest, that has helped me so much more than she’ll ever know. I know that at times she felt badly that she and my Daddy didn’t work out. And she still feels guilty that she married a man no one in her family wanted her to marry, and then the situation turned so abusive and volatile. But trust me, I am fine. I am better than fine.
It was even BECAUSE of some of those situations and not IN SPITE of those situations that I learned just how to be me, do me, take care of me, and ensure that I never lose my voice or my place again. I won’t ever. It sucks for my partners or lovers, because I never back down and I never give in. Eh, who cares… compromise is overrated. Right? Even though this topic may not be quite as funny, I’ll just say this for myself, and in praise of my Momma: I'm glad that she taught me not to hate men for what they weren't, but to love them for what they were - to just give it over to God in matters of family and heartache.
I guess you just have to give some credit where credit is due. I am always talking or writing about my Momma and my Mamaw, and I love them. But sometimes, it’s better to not be quite so flip and funny and to really tell it like it is: I appreciate the southern gothic and crazy family I was born into. I can finally love and revel in their love in ways I didn’t always treasure the way I do now. Now, I can sit on a porch, drink some tea, and just “be” with family in a way, that my younger self could not. I had something in me that drove me to run, to always achieve, and to do even more. I give full credit for the person I became to LaNita Sue. She was Momma – a nurturer and the one that could make my tears stop. Or just be a soft shoulder when I needed it. She was Daddy – there were several years where she and I just had each other when everyone else was somewhere else and she had to be the one that helped me put on football pads and learn tennis. She was provider, consoler, parent, and friend. There were times in my life when she was (literally, and that wasn’t fun) my teacher, (not literally) my cheerleader, costume designer. There was just NOTHING she couldn’t or wouldn’t do or help me with.
She is talented. She is faithful. She is an example.
Everyone always talks about my mother's talent and beauty, but that's not why I'm the most proud of her. I'm so glad for a Momma that knew how to get up and do for herself when men or situations seemed to knock her down. I am so glad for a Momma that knew how to get back down on her knees and pray for the things that only God could give us. I'm so glad for a Momma that taught me to do my best, and hope for the rest. I'm so glad for a Momma that told me from a very young age that we could call out to a God that would listen when no one else would.
I know, I know, this blog is getting long and usually all of my material is so funny. And this had its funny moments. And its serious ones, and its sad ones… just like Momma! LaNita, I know you have a hundred things to do and probably will never read this blog, but if you do… Honey, I am SO PROUD to have come from you and to have ended up so SCARILY like you.
Happy Mother’s Day!!!