As we prepare to celebrate Mothers’ Day, I dedicate this post to my mother, Elizabeth Matthews, who made her transition 26 years ago. She has been gone for more than half my life, but the fond memories of our times together have always comforted me. Her passing reminds me of a conversation between two close friends that stopped abruptly, before either could say good-bye. It was February 1987, and my mother was admitted to a hospital in Brooklyn for a planned surgical procedure. The television was on and we were watching All My Children, a popular soap opera. During the commercial we discussed how to bake turkey wings. She reminded me to cover them and warned me not to overcook them, as this would be her coming home meal. Complications set in after her surgery, and she passed a few days later. We had moved to Brooklyn a few months after her 45th birthday, and she passed one month before her 51st birthday.
My mother’s journey began in Savannah, Georgia. She was the oldest of three children born to Margaret and William Matthews in 1936. This was the end of the depression and life was hard for all Americans. For blacks in the south racism and segregation made daily living nearly intolerable. My grandparents were Catholics, so my mother and her two brothers attended Catholic school, which protected them from the cruelty of segregated public schools. By the time my mother was ready to attend high school, my grandparents agreed she would have a better life in the north, so she migrated to New York City.
She moved to Harlem where she lived with her Aunt Hortense, my grandmother’s oldest sister. She attended Washington Irving High School and graduated in 1954. At that point, she was finally in a position to pursue her life-long dream of becoming a nurse. She enrolled in the Central School for Practical Nurses, on Welfare Island, and graduated in 1957. The first leg of her journey was complete. After leaving Central, she continued her studies to become a Registered Nurse.
The years that followed were punctuated with “firsts”. She secured her first job; working full-time at St. Luke’s Hospital and part-time at Bellevue Hospital on weekends when work was available. She moved into her first apartment in Harlem. She made many friends and they frequented the social clubs Harlem was known for. She went on her first of several trips to the Bahamas and the Caribbean, before venturing to Europe. She met my father, Herbert Brizz, and had me, her first, and only, child.
Like most mothers and daughters we had our challenging moments. However, time has erased these minor skirmishes and replaced them with my fond memories of sharing my own “firsts” with her. There is one particular first I hold close to my heart; she was my first girlfriend and really I miss those days. I recently found the courage to look through some photos of my mother, and found many that I have never shared. So, in honor of Mother’s Day, I am proud to submit this small tribute in her memory. As time passes, I know that I will summon the courage to share more photos of her.
In closing, I wish every lady a Happy Mother’s Day, whether you have children or not. Over time, I have come to realize that mothering, and nurturing, manifests in many ways.
Photo – debenhamflowers.com