By looking at Sarai Jackson, one would never guess her nickname in the neighborhood was "Big Mama." She was a petite, frail, and distinguished looking woman even at 88 years old. Or was she 94 or 101? No one ever knew. I didn't know about her nickname until I read it in her obituary.
She died 5 years ago on this day.
Each Saturday at 4 p.m., Mrs. Jackson left her home for about two hours or so dressed like she had just stepped off the pages of Town & Country from the early 60s. Wearing gloves, hat, purse and shoes in coordinating colors to a trim A-line double breasted, soft pastel cashmire coat, I wondered when I first moved into the neighorhood, "is she going to a country club for dinner?"
It was 20 years ago I met her personally while taking my daughter out for a stroller ride conveniently coordinating the time to coincide with her "steppin out" time one Saturday. I waved a "hello" and said a few words admiring her hat, gloves, heels, and coat. She waved back. Smiling. Never saying a word.
During the week, I saw she was out sitting in her screened porch so I stopped over to say "hello" and this time I was "invited" to come up and chat. We had many conversations over the years when she was up to it. I always started with "did you see that article about....?" and she would answer with a soft "mmm, mmm, mmm." Then, she would let go with a deep sigh and a short sermon on the stoop about what life was like when she was growing up.
One day while visiting we saw a patrol car drive by. There was some trouble in the neighborhood with the boys who lived at the house on the corner. Mrs. Jackson referred to them as "hoodlums" and "no good." I mentioned the one time I had a run in with one of the boy's friends who insisted on blaring his "boom-boom" music in the wee hours of the morning parked in front of our house.
"Mmmm, mmm, mmm. No good those boys. Up to no good. Trouble. Those boys should be in bed. It's a school night. What's wrong with that mother," she would ask, not expecting an answer from me.
I mentioned something about how hard it must be for a single parent mother working the 3rd shift, trying to pay her mortgage, insurance, and raising children without any support or back up.
Mrs. Jackson went quiet. Very quiet. Did I jumped protocol and speak out of turn? Did I offend her?
Then finally she let out a "no excuse for that. No excuse for that at all. Those boys are bad because the mother has her priorities all wrong. I raised 8 children and had a full time job. My kid's were not running around the neighborhood like hoodlums. Like the way the kids are running around today. No excuse for this generation of hoodlums. No excuse at all."
Then she went on about what it was like working in the late 50s and early 60s getting up early in the morning making breakfast and lunches for her kids and catching the bus by 8:30 to go downtown to get to her job by 9:00 a.m.
"I had breakfast for my children at the table every morning."
I don't remember Mrs. Jackson's exact words for her sermon that day but she said it was the least a mother or father could do for their child; to provide a good breakfast. To sit down together in the morning when they are very young to establish a good pattern for social development. Young enough to sit at a high chair or table because if they have table time in the morning, they'll have a good disposition throughout the rest of their life. Children need to feel that somebody is in control and that somebody is caring for them.
In so many words, Mrs. Jackson said if children can't trust their own parent to give them the basic neccessities of feeling secure, wanted, and loved, then how can we expect them to ever trust other people?
Ever since that day with Mrs. Jackson, my children have never ever gone a day without sitting down for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.