Maya Angelou, Mom&Me&Mom
Published 2013 by Virago, 200p
This book has been written to examine some of the ways love heals and helps a person to climb impossible heights and rise from immeasurable depths.
Mom&Me&Mom is the final book, the seventh, in the series of Maya Angelou’s autobiographies. It presents facts from Angelou’s life but it mainly focuses on the relation she had with Vivian Baxter, her mother.
Born in 1928 Maya Angelou was a child raised by her grandmother, she was raped at seven by her mother’s boyfriend, learned to be a mother herself when she was only seventeen and experienced careers as dancer, prostitute, actress before becoming a writer and a civil rights activist and turning into one of the iconic black women of the world. She was smart and wrote for her audience using anecdotes and being open and optimistic even when talking about violence or pain.
This book explains why Vivian Baxter left Maya and her brother, Bailey, and how they worked on improving their relationship. Vivian, whom Maya called Lady as she couldn’t consider her a mother, was a strong personality and looked like a movie star but was miserable in her marriage.
I missed you but I knew you were in the best place for you. I would have been a terrible mother. I had no patience. Maya, when you were about two years old, you asked me for something. I was busy talking, so you hit my hand, and I slapped you off the porch without thinking. It didn’t mean I didn’t love you; it just meant I wasn’t ready to be a mother. I’m explaining to you, not apologizing. We would have all been sorry had I kept you.
The first decade of the 20th century was not a great time to be born black and poor and female in St Louis, Missouri, but Vivian Baxter was born black and poor, to black and poor parents. Later she would grow up and be called beautiful. As a grown woman she would be known as the butter-coloured lady with the blowback hair.
There are many traumatic episodes Angelou revisits in the book and it took years to her to accept some of them but always telling the truth was part of her life living and healing process. Telling the truth was also the essential principal in the relation with her mother. Learning to accept each other’s personalities, in a very slow process mother and daughter manage to build an indestructible bond.
Vivian was extremely active, fearless, a gambler, the first black woman officer in the Merchant Marine but loyal to her daughter whom she always supported:
Do right. Don’t let anybody raise you from the way you have been raised. Know you will always have to make adaptations, in love relationships, in friends, in society, in work, but don’t let anybody change your mind. And then remember this: You can always come home.
Under her mother’s guidance, Angelou becomes the first black female streetcar conductor, then a night club dancer, a writer and a movie producer in Stockholm. She also understands that it is not impossible to raise a black child in a racist society and confronts her boyfriend who has beaten her unconscious and hold her captive in his apartment.
Vivian Baxter is not the classical profile of a mother who leaves her children for ten years. She has her flaws and a turbulent personal life but she is a vital source to her children and works hard on reconciliation. Soon after Vivian helps Maya deliver her baby boy the latter begins calling the former Mother, then Mom.
She was a raconteur and would entertain my friends as if they were her friends. My mother was irresistible (when she wanted to be) and everyone fell in love with her when she wanted them to.
Just before her mother died of lung cancer, Maya took her hand, kissed her fingers and gave her permission to go:
You’ve been a hard worker – white, black, Asian, and Latino women ship out of the San Francisco port because of you. You have been a shipfitter, a nurse, a real estate broker, and a barber. Many men – if my memory serves me right – a few women risked their lives to love you. You were a terrible mother of small children, but there has never been anyone greater than you as a mother of a young adult.
The book is definitely a life lesson, an example of courage and a lovely portrait of two strong women who found pleasure in the process of making their way in the world.