In her endorsement of Lucimarian Tolliver Roberts’ memoir, My Story, My Song: Mother-Daughter Reflections on Life and Faith, Dr. Maya Angelou writes, “Being the daughter of a phenomenal mother, I know [Good Morning America co-anchor] Robin Roberts became who she is because she is the daughter of Lucimarian Tolliver Roberts.” This is exactly the sense I had after I read this lovely, inspiring book. Angelou went on to say the book should be read by “every woman who wants to raise a daring daughter who dares to face life fully with enthusiasm and an adventurous spirit.” I concur. Mrs. Roberts’ life story takes readers from the era of “Jim Crow,” through military life as the wife of a Tuskegee Airman, to Thanksgiving dinner with twenty-first century celebrities. She has been a wife, mother, teacher, civic, and church volunteer (especially in the area of music), and shares wisdom from each of these arenas. In honor of Mother’s Day, here is an excerpt from My Story, My Song.
GROWING OLDER, CELEBRATING LIFE
Over the span of my long life, I have learned many lessons. To be honest, I am learning them still. Out of the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina, I discovered not to prize possessions too highly. I grieved the loss of many special objects. The copper wall plaques we’d brought back from Japan. The china vase hand-painted by Larry’s aunt. Our stereo and collection of old record albums. My organ. Even now, there are times when I suddenly think about an item only to realize that it has been lost forever. I have also discovered what it’s like to lose a loved one in a heartbeat. But through every loss, I am learning to loosen my grasp on things of this world and to cling to good memories and to God instead.
I have also come to understand that having a sense of humor helps to offset the challenges of growing old. My spirits are lifted whenever I hear laughter around the dinner table or at a family gathering. In fact, I often think that humor may be God’s best gift to those of us in late life, a salve for difficult moments.
As my mother grew older, she sometimes talked about death and what she wanted for her funeral. She dreaded the thought of people looking down at her lifeless body laid out in a casket, then muttering some nonsense about how natural she looked. In her opinion, no one really looks natural when they are dead.
When my mother passed away, my sister and I went to the funeral home only to discover that our mother had bright red nails and lipstick. Dee and I looked at each other and burst out laughing, thinking back to what mother had said. Sally Tolliver had never worn nail polish or lipstick, so we were certain that no one would look at her and say that she looked natural! Sometimes you just have to laugh.
Thinking back on all the stories of my life, there is one story that shines especially bright in my memory. My mother loved to tell it, perhaps because it captured the essence of who I am and what I believe. As I explained earlier, during the Depression my mother cooked on a wood stove in the basement because our electricity had been turned off. There was an occasion when my father was home between drinking binges, and we were seated for dinner at a makeshift table in the basement.
For some reason, I began to sing. My father looked at me sternly and announced that there would be no singing at the table. After a few moments, I got up from the table, went outside to the screened-in window that opened to the basement and pressed my face close. I began to sing words that just bubbled up inside me. “I’ve got a little song in my heart, and I’m going to sing it.” I didn’t intend to be funny, but even my father couldn’t resist a laugh. I suppose I just couldn’t be silenced.
I reflect back on my long life and realize that I still sing because I have a song in my heart and a story to tell. About the people who came alongside to encourage me on this journey of life. About a family who has given me bountiful joy and priceless memories. About a God who has been with me each step of the way and will walk with me until I’ve finished the last mile.
REFLECTION FROM ROBIN
The stories and wisdom in this chapter were the main reason I prayed mom would write this book. It can be difficult to watch our parents age. We must remember it’s even more challenging for them. To slowly lose one’s independence— being able to drive, to live self-sufficiently. My siblings and I have all asked mom to live with one of us but she has refused. She says she doesn’t want to be a burden—as if she ever could be that to us. You know what? She still slips me a $20 bill when I come home. She calls it “greasing my palm.” She’s a proud woman.
Yes, at times the child feels like the parent, but it’s so important not to make an aging parent feel like a child. What helps me is knowing that my mom has been and always will be a child of God.Excerpted from My Story, My Song: Mother-Daughter Reflections on Life and Faith (2012). Reprinted with permission of Upper Room Books, www.upperroom.org.