Saturday, February 25, 2012

An open letter to my Dear Mother Bettie Jean Baker-Wellman /aka - Jyene Baker/on her Birthday February 25th.

Dear Mama,

You raised 6 children, Oscar Lee, Darryl Russell, Edward Byron, Paul Michael, Angela Monique, Lori Annette. When I think about the things you accomplished, all I want to do is make sure I honor you by making the best of my life.
Paul, Eddie, Lori, Lee, Angie, Darryl

I remember the story you told me about how you were invited to audition for the Ed Sullivan Show and when you went, they turned you away. They said that they did not know you were "colored." I know had you had that opportunity, I would not even be writing this because you would have taken a much different path and I would not have been born to you.

You held down a 40-hr a week job and gigged 6 nights a week at the Top of the Hilton Inn in Kansas City. Some of my fondest memories are of me helping you get dressed for those gigs. I was your chamber maid, fetched your sherry that you said helped your voice, helped you get into your girdles and stuff the bra with pads (five kids did a number on your body) put on the eyelashes, thread the needles when you had to fix an attachment, sew on a button, repair a piece of jewelry, whatever. Then your pianist would pick you up and I would do my homework, watch tv and fall asleep in your bed with a piece of your clothing situated in such a way that I could take in a deep breath and smell you. When I arrived at your house after you died, the first thing I did was run to your closet to smell you. You were gone and you took your fragrance with you. I don't blame you Mama. The world took so much from you: racism, sexism robbed you of your dreams. You put up with a lot of shit from people. I watched you handle it all with grace and dignity. Sometimes you would get so angry with the world, but you kept on reaching for your dreams.

You were a true Renaissance Woman. You were the first to introduce our people in KC to the health benefits of aloe vera, herbs, and purifying our water. You transformed our dining room into your office and inventory warehouse, removed the china from the cabinet, and replaced it with your Nature's Sunshine inventory. You sold Amway, Sara Coventry Jewelry, Avon, Shaklee Products, Mary Kaye Cosmetics, Nature's Sunshine, and I don't know what else. One thing I know: between you and your brother, Edward Byron Baker, Sr., I learned how to fend for myself and nurture that pioneering spirit I inherited from you.

I was your first-born daughter and you could not believe it. You had come to believe that you were a male maker and when the doctor's told you that you had a 6-lb 7-ounce baby girl, you looked at 'em and said, "You know anymore good jokes?" and when they brought me in you waited until they left and removed my diaper for confirmation and when it was time for me to return to the nursery, you wouldn't let them take me.  You named me Angel Monique and called me Nikki. Daddy added the "a" at the end of Angel, but you always called me your angel. :-))

We had our challenges because I was truly YOUR daughter, determined to be me, which was very different from your plans for me. You used to dress me up in Cinderella-brand dresses, white lace socks and patent leather shoes. I hated those dresses and petticoats. I know you were disappointed because I did not wear the make-up or bring home the tall, dark handsome son-in-law.  You had a rough time with who I chose to love, but we got through it and you told my brothers who were having a hard time with my choice to love women, that they were missing out on a beautiful person and to get over it. "Your sister's a beautiful woman," you told them.  When you told me that, I was so relieved and happy. You had finally accepted me. And when I finally brought home a Black woman, you said, "Well, I still don't understand this women loving women thing, but I'm so glad to see you bring home a Black one." I still chuckle about that.

I remember long, late night conversations talking about any and everything. You taught me songs, told me about your latest herbal remedies, introduced me to Andrew Weil, Naturopathic medicine, and kept me informed about family matters. We talked about your plans to travel and planned visits with me.  Your last visit was hard. You were really sick and in lots of pain, but we took walks in my little Berkeley neighborhood and really did stop and smell some roses in one of the yards. Even though you were in lots of pain, you managed to get yourself to the North Berkeley Senior Center where you met an 80-something year old woman who was teaching yoga. You marveled at her story of being bed-ridden with arthritis and how yoga got her back on her feet. You were ready to try that. But you didn't make it. You went back home to KC and I went on the road. I was going to come and care for you when I finished the tour, but you left before I could get there.  That was the hardest thing in life I ever had to accept and learn to live with, but you had to go and I was relieved for you because I know you were in a lot of pain.

In July it will be 18 years since you moved on. A friend, Melanie DeMore, said to me, "Ang, it doesn't get easier. It just gets less hard." She was right. Sometimes it seems as though you died yesterday. I miss you so much and most of the time it is not as hard as it was.  But to not be able to hear your voice, talk to you, smell you is still hard.

Thank you, Mama, for everything you gave me. But most of all:

Thank you for loving me and teaching me how to love others.
I know you are somewhere resting in deep peace.
Lord knows you deserve it!

I will love you for all eternity. See you along the way, I hope.

aka Nikki

Lori and I, your TWO ANGELS, really miss you.