By Michael Benjamin
“Be very careful if you make a woman cry, because God counts her tears. The woman came out of a man’s rib. Not from his feet to be walked on nor from his head to be superior, but from the side to be equal; under the arm to be protected and next to the heart to be loved.” — The Talmud —
It was one of the coldest days in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada and for the fifth day in succession the temperature registered below zero. I peered through the frosty glass partition that separated the living room from the porch and naturally did a double take.
A blanket of lily white snow covered the ground outside. I remained in the warm confines of the living room, spade in hand contemplating the ritualistic task I was about to undertake — shoveling more than five inches of snow from the porch and the immediate area in front of my parents’ house.
Having just exited my warm bed, the task was daunting but since I (except my aging father, a carpenter who was also preparing to leave the house on his regular work missions) was the only male in the house, the task of shoveling the snow from the immediate surroundings was non negotiable.
I stood transfixed by the door, willing myself to exit the house when I heard footsteps behind me. I turned and saw my mother, fully dressed in protective gear —a large woolly coat, a pair of leather gloves, a scarf around her neck, and mufflers on her ears. In her left hand she carried a basket while in her right, was her working bag.
“I’m off to work son,” she pronounced as she exited the house, “Have a nice day; see you later,” she continued moments before she disappeared, on her way to the bus stop about one hundred metres away.
She carried the basket to ‘pick up a few things as she passed the marketplace’ on her way home from work. As you would have guessed by now, I needed no second urging and immediately exited the living room and became engulfed in the task of clearing away the several inches of snow that sat dangerously in front of the house.
There are many more but this recitation is probably one of the most memorable moments for me about my mom. She taught me the benefits of hard work. She also taught me the importance of play. The very hands that cuddled me closely as I suckled were the very hands that whipped the living daylights out of me whenever I ventured into the neighbour’s yard to steal a few guavas or mangoes or whenever I transgressed some law or the other.
Ironically, those beatings served to prepare me for the present day travails and in retrospect, were necessary admonitions. My mother shared her love between twelve children and there was always enough to go around.
Of course, when one thinks of love, a glossy picture of hugs, kisses and gifts are immediately conjured and even though there were heaping helpings of those in the home, my mother also meted out love with a whip or wild cane.
“Son, this pains me more than it pains you but I have to do it,” she would say amidst the swishing sound of the whip and the screams emanating from my throat. Those scars, both psychological and physical remain to this day, a gentle reminder of my mother’s love. “You have to be cruel to be kind,” were her favourite words. The reason for the thrashing might have been when I skillfully scaled the neighbour’s fence and helped myself to a few guavas or a stalk of sugarcane but was not skillful enough to avoid detection.
The neighbour would look out and utter the most dreaded words, “You just wait until your mom gets home!” After that, the sweet juice of the stolen product could have hardly compensated for the blows when the neighbour lodged her complaint upon my mother’s return from work later in the day.
My mother was everything from doctor to philosopher to housewife to sociologist— she used profound techniques to impart knowledge. Those lessons still resonate in my mind. My Mother taught me to think ahead…”If you don’t pass your spelling test, you’ll never get a good job!” Those were the days when I tottered between choices. Should I be a boxer or is it better to be an engineer, doctor, policeman or the myriad of prestigious professions that were there for the choosing.
For some inexplicable reason my mother seemed to think that the pursuance of academics should be my first priority and if I faltered in this area, she swiftly put a curfew on my boxing activities.
Invariably, I learnt that boxing and academics are hand in glove persuasions and mommy refused to budge her stance. The benefits of that particular lesson is perpetuated in this and other articles I pen on a daily basis not to mention other academic persuasions.
Further, my mother taught me humour…”When you escape and go swimming in the ‘backdam’ and accidentally drowned, don’t come running to me for sympathy.”
Yes, those were the days when little boys could not resist the temptation of an illegal dip in the murky waters of the Lamaha Canal. Upon
completion of this ritual, one’s skin assumed a scaly look and was an easy give away. Naturally, such childish and irresponsible actions brought down mother’s wrath with a concomitant beating.
They say the stricter the government, the wiser the population. In order to avoid detection after an illegal dip I would daub a healthy portion of cooking oil to erase the scaly impressions left on my skin but as you might guess, I seldom managed to fool mommy. “One day you will thank me for this licking,” she would say as the whip fell on my naked back.
That statement was as confusing as it was unfathomable. Today, I have children of my own and can only now appreciate the wisdom of those words.
My Mother was no academic nor did she hold down any of the high profile jobs of that era. She was merely a cook at the Georgetown Public Hospital. Yet her lessons were profound and shaped my life in a similar way. She was no philosopher but her lessons were philosophical in nature. My mother taught me to meet a challenge…
“What were you thinking when you did that nonsense?”
“Mommy I was thinking… ,” you would mumble before a wringing box connected to your mouth. “Don’t you dare give me back chat, do I look like one of your slimy friends?”
Amidst the silence, blows would rain once again. “Answer me when I talk to you…….”
My Mother taught me the benefits of nutrition…”If you don’t eat your vegetables, you’ll never grow up.” Growing up was the last thing I wanted not to do. I looked around and fathomed that adults were having all of the fun—parties, women, nice cars and the works. I could not wait to reach puberty and then walk gracefully into adulthood.
Had my mother divulged to me the challenges of adulthood, I might not have eaten my vegetables but she knew just what to tell me and what to hold back.
My mother taught me to be a good father to my children and a good husband to my wife. In those days my father lived off the bottle and I was disgusted by mommy’s tolerance yet she prevailed. Compensation came for her when I was about twenty years old, when she successfully influenced dad to enroll into an alcoholic anonymous programme. Mom continued supporting dad until he was clean. The greatest joy for me occurred some ten years ago when my dad returned to Guyana on vacation and a fellow with whom he had imbibed on numerous occasions suggested a drink for ‘old time’s sake.’
My father looked him in the eyes and replied, “I don’t poison myself anymore.” The influence of a wife and mother had prevailed.
I often ponder on the lessons derived from my mother. She taught me about my roots “Do you think you were born in a barn?” My mother also taught me about anticipation…”Just wait until your father gets home.” I also learnt an important lesson about receiving…”You are going to get it when we get home.” (This was after I had exhibited especially disgraceful deportment in the company of her friends.)
Most importantly, and this is my all-time favorite – justice…”One day you’ll have kids, and I hope they turn out just like you — then you’ll see what it’s like!” True to her words I have two children and the boy bears similar propensities of me in my heydays. That is why I bought a tech nine. I don’t have the patience of my mom and even though my dad was a clear and present danger and an enforcer of mommy’s policies, he only interceded on the instructions or directions of my mom.
As the boys would say, ‘She run things!’
Those are the variables that distinguish mothers and maybe forced lawmakers to set aside this day for all to glorify in their accomplishments.
To all mothers that are enjoying the day today I urge you to do so to the fullest. Especially those who play the dual role of mom and dad. For me I would like to tip my hat and say, “Thank you mommy for fathering me.”
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