Kevin McNeir and his mother, Edna McNeir Baker
Kevin McNeir and his mother, Edna McNeir Baker

Some things get easier with time. Some things, no matter how much time goes by, never do. The death of my mother sits at the top of the list. That’s my conclusion as the one-year anniversary of my mother’s death approaches on July 4th. Momma was 91.

In many ways, I realize that I am indeed fortunate — blessed to have had my mother, Edna, in my life for so many years. During her last four years of life, she slowly began slipping away from me and our family as Alzheimer’s disease took its toll on her abilities to remember and to engage. But there were those moments when, suddenly, she was that energetic ball of fire that I remembered and missed so much.

There were things that I took for granted that I now tell my children, my grandsons and others to never allow to happen.

I grew to long for those Sunday dinners: oven-fried chicken, sweet potatoes cooked to perfection, macaroni and cheese — the cheese oozing over the sides of the pan, cornbread (Jiffy’s of course), collard greens mixed with turnips and okra. I grew to long for our fierce Scrabble competitions which as I grew older and my vocabulary developed, I began to beat her with ease — much to her dismay and pride.

The more things change, the more they remain the same. I grew to long for those road trips we took long ago every summer during my youth to Camden and Mobile, Pensacola, Baltimore, Williamsburg, Charles City where we’d visit all of the kinfolks. Like a Black version of the Von Trapp family, Mom, along with my older sister and I, would sing three-part harmony to the Top Ten tunes from her choir back in Detroit. Then, we’d add the Motown hits from the Temps, Tops, Supremes and all the rest.

Meanwhile, my Dad, who also died on another holiday, Father’s Day, in 1985, would hum in the background since he’d never been able to carry a tune. We let him keep the beat.

But most of all, I remember the cards my mother would send to me — always knowing, somehow, that I was a bit overwhelmed with life, despondent over setbacks or failures, or just plain broke and in need of a few dollars. She always knew. And she always sent me a note of encouragement which, as I look back on it, meant a lot more than any amount of money she would include.

One day not long ago, I found a box that my mother had saved which had no label on the outside. In it were all of the clippings of my writings — things I’d written as a child all the way through my professional career as a journalist. There were cards that I had sent to her. There were photos and photos and more photos. The box was a cornucopia of love. It was her collection of memories of me — of us.

Earlier I said I realize how fortunate and blessed I am and have been. I stand by that statement.

You see, as she began to forget how to walk, feed herself, even use the bathroom or wash herself, I found myself forced to accept a new role as the parent of a very young child. Our roles had been reversed — not of my choosing — but out of necessity.

I began to enjoy combing her hair, getting her dressed for a concert or dinner when she was up to it. I looked forward to tucking her in and kissing her goodnight. I relished the chance to cook HER favorites and see her make a mess as she gobbled up my greens, my chicken, my sweet potatoes and my macaroni and cheese.

Then, like all of us, she’d lay back on the couch and begin to snore — loudly.

I remember praying that God would take her in her sleep, peacefully, painlessly, so that she would not have to endure being alone in a hospital room with tubes, and needles and nurses — alone. God granted me that prayer on America’s birthday.

I don’t really care about the fireworks or the singing of national anthems like “My Country, Tis of Thee” or “God, Bless America.” I don’t put out a red, white and blue flag. I don’t stand to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. In fact, I don’t do anything patriotic at all.

Instead I look to the heavens, then open that box of memories that my mother cherished and saved so that one day I would discover it and know that while even in death, she’d never be far away from me.

Actually, when I think about, Momma is just a prayer away.

Dominic Kevin McNeir is an award-winning journalist with more than 25 years of service for the Black Press (NNPA). Prior to moving East to assist his aging parents in their struggles with Alzheimer’s,...

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