The Real Queen Elizabeth on her 90th Birthday
A Gift that Keeps on Giving
Today is “Mother’s Day.” I revere this day because I am certain that no man who ever walked the earth was more richly rewarded in a mother than me!!!! It is no exaggeration to say that the best of what I am is the direct handiwork of my mother. My flaws – and all humans have them – are of my own making. And although I say all humans have flaws, the only flaw I can see in my mother is that she cares too much for people who wouldn’t matter to most folks.
My father died when I was four, and my mother was widowed with two children at 21 years old. Mom and dad were highschool sweethearts, and when I see pictures of them as young lovers I always think of Duke Ellington’s composition “Black and Tan Fantasy.” Dad was a handsome man of jet black complexion, “A negro of the deepest dye” as the 18th century scientist Benjamin Banneker described himself in a letter to Thomas Jefferson.
Everybody remembers Dad as a sharp dresser, a paragon of male elegance. Which my mom systematically passed on to me. And he had the gift of gab; which served him well with mom who once told me she liked “jazzy black men who knew how to sweet talk a woman.” Then she said “Your daddy, George Benjamin, could talk a gopher out of his hole.” the fact that Mom loved chocolate dandies convinced me that being a chocolate dandy was the hippest thing to be. Plus she used to tell me I was “a pretty gingerbread boy.”
Moms was a pecan tan fox with a full head of thick jet black hair and everybody used to say she looked like Lena Horne. But just for the record: I always thought it was lena who should have been flattered! Her mother – my grandmother Claudia, who is my younger sister’s namesake – was a first rate seamtress, and mom’s father, Walter”Big Nang,” Bellamy, was the kind of enterprising fellow who provided for his family well, and instructed his wife to use her skills sewing only for her daughters….except for very well paying specialty work for down town boutiques and rich women in the town that paid exceptionally well.
I am especially fortunate because my mother is still very much alive and well. She is heading toward her 93ard birthday, and my daughter Makeda “The Body Scientist” predicts that mom will live to be 100! She bases this on her analysis of Mom’s physical condition – and as an expert on physical conditioning and nutrition she is eminently qualified to conduct such an analysis. In any case, at 92 she is just as lucid, witty, and swift on the cap as she was when I was a boy! There is no one that i enjoy discussing the great issues I write about, or football and basketball, than my mother.
When I see the wretched hags some unfortunate folks had for mothers, even some very rich people, I rejoice because I got the luck of the draw. I attribute it to luck rather than God, because I cannot imagine a just God favoring me so unfairly over others; especially since I did nothing to deserve such a splendid gift…it is a gift that still keeps on giving seventy years later! Although I have an embarrassment of riches to choose from, one example will suffice. As a young boy, I had a terrible speech impediment. I stuttered so badly I would break a sweat just trying to get a few sentences out!
My mother looked at me on day when I was three years old and thought: “This boy is going to have enough trouble being black in America, he doesn’t need the added burden of not being able to express his self too.” We were still living in Philadelphia at the time so she did some research and found a program at the University of Pennsylvania that treated speech pathology. She took me in, had my condition diagnosed, then she took a course on how to help me conquer my problems.
What I remember most from that experience was the way mom never once showed the slightest impatience or disappointment with me when she was instructing me. No matter how many times I screwed up she always smiled and said calmly: “You can do it…now let’s try again.” Well two concrete things resulted from that experience: I not only overcame my speech impediment, I did it so well that by the time I was in the sixth grade my Aunt Rosa, an English literature teacher and faculty sponsor of the Oratorical Team, drafted me on the team and I remained on it for six years.
She assigned some of the great orations in world history, Shakespearian monologues, and epic poems for me to recite. Alas, she expected nothing less than mastery of every emphisis and nauance implied in the text. And she was a tough taskmaster. she had also taught my mother, my aunts and uncles to speak the English language also. Hence I grew up awash in verbal eloquence. My mother fully understood the power of the well spoken word, and she refused to allow me to take on the challenges of the world without having that weapon in my arsenal.
Mom and my Sister Melba
A wonderful generous spirit, Melba is mom’s primary caretaker
Although I never won an oratorical contests until my sister Melba graduated – she spanked me every year – I went on to become an orator of considerable skill. I have spoken in every venue: street corner soap boxes, churches, Harvard, the Sorbonne in Paris, Columbia University, the Army War College, and the Great Hall at Cooper Union where I faced the brilliant British polemicist Christopher Hitchens in a debate about the Iraq War – which can be seen on You Tube. And I have won the favor of intresting and beautiful women of all nations because of the intoxicating things I can say out of my mouth.
I have shared the stage with both Jesse Jackson and Louis Farrakhan – two of the greatest orators of our time – and more than held my own. All of this is a gift from my mother! Yet there is an even greater gift that mom bequeathed to me: SHE CONVINCED ME I COULD DO ANYTHING I WANT TO IF “YOU PUT YOUR MIND TO IT” by the time I was five years old! And I have never ever doubted it for a nano-second….plus she taught me impeccable manners and values and convinced me I was pretty! I can imagine no greater gifts than these. Can you?
Today mom spends her days in the loving comfort of my Sister Melba’s home. A retired educator, Melba lives down on the Jersey shore, about the same distance from the ocean as when we were growing up in Florida. If there is a heaven Melba will certainly have a place there right beside our beloved mother. Happy Mother’s day mom!!! If I am wrong and there is a God….there is no better example of his grace than you!!!!!!!
Basking in the adoration of her grandchildren Makeda and Samori
She left her imprint on them too!
She even Picked their Wonderful mother!
Mom encouraged us to live together then denounced us for living in sin: We Married!
Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
May 13, 2012