Mother’s Day Guest Columnist Deborah Kennedy: What I Never Got To Tell My Mother

Deborah Kennedy is the author of the novel “Two Kinds of Color.”Based on some true characters and some true events, it’s about a mother’s love and sacrifice for her children, two white and two black, on Chicago’s South Side. Herwebsite: Deborah, who is married and lives in Las Vegas, is working on a second novel. Here, in a break from this blog’s tradition of showcasing letters from parents to children, is Deborah’s letter to her mother, Ethel Joyce Hamilton.

Dear Mother:

Growing up on the South Side of Chicago, my siblings and I knew nothing about the meaning of the word “prostitution.” We became aware of it while inside the small bedroom the six of us shared in Chicago. Our door was connected to your bedroom. Through the keyhole we watched an array of men pay you cash for flesh. When you came up short of enough cash to give my own father, your pimp, he beat you mercilessly. Sometimes to make more money you would pull the fire alarm connected to the building’s hallway. The fire department would arrive and the firefighters did their business with you.

Now let me tell you about me and my siblings.

First, let me tell you about your son, Jerrald: He was a lover of baseball. One day he got tired of watching flesh for cash. With the little money he and I had, we decided to go to Wrigley Field to see the Cubs play baseball. When the game was over, we had to walk home. The money that could have gotten us a ride on the bus was spent on hot dogs. On the way through the white neighborhoods we ran into a group of white children. One screamed, “Hey nigger, what are you doing with that white kid.” We ran when they threw rocks at us. After we got home, I said to Jerrald, “Those kids called you a nigger.” Later that night, I realized I was the one they called a nigger. Even though Jerrald never telephones me, and I’ve only seen him a few times over 15years, I want you and Jerrald to know I love you.

Next, let me tell you about your son, Tracy: I remember the rainy afternoon when he and I took a short cut through Washington Park. We were on our way to the apartment of a man called Red Sunny. We wanted to find out if he was Tracy’s father. When we got there, Red Sunny’s wife opened the door. There was a boy standing beside her, close to Tracy’s age. He could have been his twin. The last time I talked to Tracy was by telephone in 1980. He told me he was training to be an army sniper. It was the last time I heard from him. The army has no paperwork on him as a soldier. Though I have no pictures of Tracy, his face is embedded in my memory. He had the most beautiful green, slow-blinking eyes. Wherever Tracy is on this earth, be it in body or in spirit, I want you and him to know I love you.

Let me tell you, too, about your daughter, Cynthia: I remember all the fighting I did to protect her. It was so difficult for her to attend an all-black school. These days, I’m so glad Cynthia is always there for me. It’s such a blessing that she forgave me for my cruelty toward her when we were children. When you were not home, our sister Vivian pushed us to fight one another. I guess stuff like that goes with growing up in that kind of environment. Whatever the case may be, I want you and Cynthia to know I love you.

Let me tell you, finally, about your daughter, Vivian: My black sister. I believe she suffered the most. As adults, she went almost ten years without speaking to me for a ridiculous reason. It broke my heart not to hear from her. When I tried to contact her, she never returned my phone calls.Though we are speaking now, I wish we were closer. If we didn’t call one another on birthdays I would never hear from her. I believe one day she’ll put the past behind her. If she does, and even if she does not, I want you and Vivian to know I love you.

When you could no longer work the line of prostitution, because your beauty had faded, you became a brutal and vicious alcoholic. On certain days when your eyes sought mine you saw my father. When you beat me with the electric cord, I felt how much you hated him. When I moved to Los Angeles, and vowed never again to speak to either you or my father or my siblings I finally broke down and called father. “Your momma has been dead for two years,” he said. I curled into a ball and tears rained for days. I remembered how sweet, loving, and kind you were before hell drew you. When Cynthia sent me your death certificate, it stated “Death by Hepatitis, Intestinal Bleeding, and Liver Disease caused by Chronic Alcoholism.” I smiled because I realized you drank yourself to freedom. I remember the day you told me my father took you to a woman to abort me, but you got off the cot and went out the back door. Happy Mother’s Day, Mommy. I’m Deborah Kennedy, your youngest girl. I just wanted you to know I love you with all my heart and soul completely. Thank you for saving my life.

P.S. – Please see my tribute to a special mother (my wife Elvira) tomorrow.

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