For Momma

My mother’s name was Nancy Jane Cunningham Freeman and I’m the only child she had with my biological father, Charles L. Hickman, Sr. My mother was married two other times; once before I was born and again afterwards. From her first marriage came my oldest sister and from her last came my younger brother and two sisters (one is deceased).

My mother’s name to her children was Momma. Never mother or mommy. Just Momma. I think my brother was 6 before he realized her name was actually Nancy. Except for a very few times as an adult when we were joking around and I used her first name, I never called her anything but Momma.

My siblings are my sisters and brother. We never used or use the terms “step” or “half” in our family. And even though our maternal grandparents raised my older sister, we were still nothing less than brothers and sisters and she was our Momma.

My biological father, for reasons known and unknown, was never a part of my upbringing. I can only remember meeting him once in my life and I spoke to him a few times in 2000 before he passed. Like most families with similar circumstances, there are/were “rumors” and stories about what did or didn’t happen to my parents’ marriage and there was a time when I wanted to know. But, that time passed a long time ago.

My mother died early. She was only 49 when she suffered a series of strokes in late October 1982 and she left us on November 2nd of that year which is also my brother’s birthday. Talk about your proverbial circle of life.

Momma was the funniest, most caring, loving person I’ve ever known. She taught me so much including the first song I ever knew, “Amazing Grace.” She was a great cook, she helped instill in me a sense of faith and fairness along with a love of books and reading. She had a wicked sense of humor, loved to play cards and drink beer, told me dirty jokes and shared secrets with me. She loved the San Diego Chargers football and St Louis Cardinals baseball teams with all her heart and soul. We buried her wearing a Super Chargers T-shirt under her suit and a Cardinals baseball cap in her coffin.

She loved music and dancing and could finger-pop with the best of them. She took me to my first concert – James Brown at the San Diego Civic Center – when I was 12 years old. On a school night. Understand, in our house, the only place you went on a school night was sports practice, church, a school function or the emergency room. But she took me to see James Brown on a Wednesday night.

She loved the holidays and always made sure her children had the best ones possible. She was happiest when the ones she loved the most were around her and she adored and admired her “big” little brother David S. Cunningham, Jr. She was so proud of his and her youngest brother Ronald’s many accomplishments and made sure we knew our grandparents and cousins and she made our home as warm and inviting as possible.

For the longest time, Momma was the only person who knew I was married when I was in the Air Force. I didn’t tell anyone else in my family and as far as I can tell, she took my secret to her grave. My wife was killed by a drunk driver and Momma talked me through my grief and depression along with the homemade peanut butter cookies she mailed me.

Momma gave me the best advice right when I needed it most. After I came home from the Air Force and moved to Los Angeles, I reunited with an old girlfriend and after a while, made plans to get married. But, as things went along, I started feeling that I didn’t want to get married to this woman at this time. However, as they say, it was a bit more “complicated” than just that.

This was the girlfriend I’d broken up with while in the AF so I could get married. I’d never told her the real reason why I ended our relationship, but she still loved me and took me back. But, I didn’t love her that way anymore and I didn’t know what to do.

So, one morning, I called in sick to work (I was a meter reader for the Los Angeles DWP) and drove down to San Diego. When I walked in my mother’s work office, she looked up and said, “What’s wrong?” I closed the door, sat down, and through my tears, I told her everything. She listened and when I was finally finished and all cried out, she said, “You don’t have to marry ______ and you shouldn’t if you don’t love her like that anymore. Tell her the truth; I’ll deal with her mother (she knew the family) and life will go on. And by the way, you’re 22 years old and were in love for what you know love to be.”

It took me a long, long time to understand that last sentence, but it’s stuck with me all these many years and she was absolutely right. I was in love for what I knew love to be at that time in my life.

I miss Momma each and every day. Sometimes it’s as if she’s still here and other days, it seems like it’s really been almost 32 years since I last heard her voice. For this Mother’s Day, my siblings and I sent flowers in her name to be displayed on the altar of her home church, Bethel Baptist, in San Diego, CA. When I called the church a couple of weeks ago to make the arrangements, the church secretary, Mrs. Gladys Slater, answered the phone and when I gave her my name, she said, “You’re Nancy’s oldest boy.”

“Yes,” I responded with immeasurable pride, “I am Nancy’s oldest boy.”

That’s exactly who I am.

Happy Mother’s Day to my sisters, Janice Frazier Scott and Stephanie Y. Freeman, my cousin Sherry Stokes, my “other mother” Vivian Austin, my “sistas” Monica, LaRoya, Vivienne, Melanie, and Coco, and my best friend’s wife, Michelle Sherrill Austin. May God bless and keep you and all the mothers in the world in his grace and love.

Nancy’s oldest boy.


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