A Good Woman – Part I

The day after my mother’s funeral, her baby sister,  my Aunt Mary, said to her grieving nieces:

“Well, your Mama sure had her ways, but couldn’t nobody say that Lennie wasn’t a good woman.”

We all nodded.  Mama most definitely had her ways, but the fact that she was a good woman was undeniable. 

I’ve thought about my aunt’s comment from time to time since my mom passed:

What made Mama a good woman?

Was it her unshakeable faith, her complete and utter devotion to the Lord?  Perhaps.  Mama was a Christian, but she was no church Christian.  She didn’t play church politics well at all.  In fact, she told me she was not-so-politely asked to leave her prayer group at her home church; she said it was because she was constantly challenging the group leader’s understanding of the Bible (of course, my mom was right and they were wrong).  Although her funeral was held at her home church, she hadn’t actually been inside it in years.

Mama called herself a student of the Bible.  We counted at least 30 bibles among her possessions, most of them ordered from the TV preachers she took to following when she stopped going to church.  She was not a Biblical scholar, but she had practically memorized the Bible.  She had committed her favorite passages to memory, and her recall didn’t diminish even as other parts of her memory began to fail. 

She gave, or tried to give, each of us a Bible.  She gave me two — a NIV translation, because I told her I preferred the NIV to the King James, and a Bible that had both the NIV and the King James texts side by side.  She must have been amused when, about a week before she died, I started quoting Scripture to her, using it to try to get her to consent to the medical treatment she had refused.

Mama was a good woman because she couldn’t stand to see people suffer.  It never ceased to amaze me — and, admittedly, sometimes disgusted me as well — the way she would feed the men and women who had been children with us, the ones who hadn’t done well enough to leave the block, many of them now mired in drug and alcohol addictions.  My mother hated to see people go hungry, especially children.  She was always sending a plate of food, whatever she had cooked that day, to families on the block.

We had neighbors who would come to her yard with buckets to draw water from the outside tap as if it were a well, because their water had been shut off.  I was outdone. 

Mama said, “They have children in that house.  They can’t be in that house with children and no water.”  And when I said too much in protest, she let me know it was her house, her water bill and her decision.   She never stopped doing what she could for the people in our neighborhood, until the day she died. 

We worried that people were taking advantage of an old lady living on a fixed income.  We feared that one of those people would decide to press that advantage by breaking into her home and robbing her, or worse.  Mama pooh-poohed us all.  She refused to leave her home, even when a stray bullet lodged itself in the wall just above her bed.  The neighborhood people never tried to harm her, and grieved her loss as deeply as the family did.

My mother was a good woman, but she was no saint.  As my aunt said, she had her ways.  She could be petty and small-minded.  She had a tongue that could cut you deep.  She always knew where the soft spot was, how deep to stick the knife and how far to twist it.  She defined stubbornness.  Once she had made up her mind about something, there was nothing — no logic, no reasoning, no nothing — that could change her mind.  She was as petulant as a two-year-old when she didn’t get her way.

All of those things mean she was human. 

But she was a good woman.

Mama raised us girls to be good women.  We were taught to cover our bosoms and our behinds, to close our legs and open our minds.  We were encouraged to be outspoken, independent, self-reliant.  She had seen first-hand how being financially dependent on a man could backfire, and wanted none of that for us.  As kids, we hadn’t been allowed to socialize with the people she wound up taking care of in her old age, after we moved away and they were left behind, struggling.  We were taught to comport ourselves with decorum, to treat others with respect, to associate with other good people, and to never give up on ourselves.

She was disgusted by Monica Lewinsky and would have been horrified by Rielle Hunter and Kiely Williams.  To her, a woman who used sex to get ahead was a prostitute, period.  Her insistence that looks were irrelevant, that only brains mattered, was so extreme that it seems only my oldest sister Cheryl knew she had any looks to trade upon, but it worked.  I may question her methods, but I can’t argue with the results.

I’m not a good woman in the same way that my mother was.  I’m not trying to feed the hungry in my neighborhood.  I consider myself a Christian, but some of my views of Christianity would shock and perhaps disappoint my mother.  I worry whether I have energy to fight the NYC Department of Education for my kids, the way she fought the Detroit Public Schools system to ensure that I received the best free public education I possibly could. 

And yet, I think I qualify.  I’m open-hearted and caring.  I believe everyone, from CEOs of multi-national conglomerates to the homeless, deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.  I often decry the lack of civility in our discourse with each other, especially as people interact more and more with people they do not know personally via social media.   And while I try to get my daughter to feel good about herself inside and out, both beauty and brains, I’m an old-fashioned stickler for necklines up, hemlines down, knees together.

My mother lived long enough to see the type of woman I’ve become.  I’m pretty confident she approved.

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2 Responses to “A Good Woman – Part I”

  1. Yeauxlanda Says:

    Excellent.

  2. aaw1976 Says:

    Your mother was awesome she sounded like both of my grandmothers…. Great read. Can’t wait for part 2.

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