While in a meeting last week with former Mayor Larry Otis, we discussed the health and well being of our mothers. I told him my mother, Bernice Gambrel, had been in the hospital recently with another blood clot and she’s not quite the same. With sensitivity, he stated, “Juanita, be thankful, you can still look at her.” What powerful words! A few days later, Mama was rushed to the hospital again with complications from a fall that has left her with bleeding on the brain and many times not even aware of her children, family and friends.
As I sat night after night with her, I had time to reflect on the Mayor’s words and to think about the very positive role she played in shaping our lives as children. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “It is not length of life, but depth of life.”
Armed with only an 8th grade education, she taught our family core values – loving the Lord and carrying out His commandments; loving all people regardless of race; making a difference in your home, school or community; and persevering during difficult times. In the book of Judges, Gideon asked, “But Lord, how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”
Mama did not allow her lot in life or circumstances to define the way she would fulfill her mission in life. She often talked about her hardships in life. She desperately wanted to go to college and couldn’t go because she had to help support her parents on the farm – by picking cotton. She said, “Our family would pick bales and bales of cotton and at the end of the season would be told, ‘you broke even’ or only given a few dollars extra to live on for an entire year.” After she married, she began her journey of working in private homes to help support our family. Some of the employers were good to her and respected her as an adult; others treated her quite ugly and unfairly. She then worked a few years in the public and finally retired – only to be told that she didn’t qualify and denied Medicaid at age 65. At age 84 she was finally able to obtain Medicaid.
She became a widow in her early forties and became the sole provider for a family of seven children and one grandchild and later three additional grandchildren that she took in to raise upon the death of their mother.
I share this information about my mother as a personal testimony of how she was never bitter about her lot in life. She always said, “Deal with the hand you have been given.” She correlated her life with that of the Apostle Paul who learned to be content in whatever state he was in. She handles life with dignity and grace.
I have been blessed to share her story of how she prepared me for integration all over Northeast Mississippi. She was named a “Woman of Distinction” by NEWMS (New Expectations for Women in Mississippi) for her role in making a difference in the lives of peoples. Rosalynn Carter said, “I believe that one of the most important things to learn in life is that you can make a difference … no matter who you are or where you live.”
After reading an article about herself, Mama called me at work – which was unusual – she didn’t believe in calling on the job unless it was an absolute emergency. She said, “Thank you for what you have done for me and for writing about me. The only time I thought someone would read about me – would be my obituary! I wish I could have done more as a mother for you all.” As we both cried, I emotionally said, “Mama, thank you for being my mother and I wish I could have done more for you.”
In a week, many will celebrate and honor mothers on Mother’s Day. If your mother has passed on – cry if you must – but remember her love and concern for you as her child. If she is alive, I encourage you to hug and appreciate your mother. Mend old quarrels and reunite. Spend quality time with your mother while you have a chance. The time will come when life will slowly ebb and fade away and the sun will shine no more.
This Mother’s Day, all mothers should ask: What is my role as a mother? What kind of values am I instilling in my children? Have I made a positive difference in the lives of my children or some other child’s life like Mrs. Bernice Gambrel? You be the judge.
Juanita Gambrell Floyd is vice president for Finance and Administration at CREATE Foundation. Contect her at firstname.lastname@example.org.