Nell Carter

When I was young… wanna say like… 5 or 6 years old – my mom worked two jobs.  We’ve been down this road – I’ve recounted this numerous times.  Or… maybe I haven’t.  How her leaving for the second job would send me into a frenzy looking for anything I could find that might convince her that staying home was better.  How I would follow her around the house from room to room as she got ready to head out the door talking to her and asking her questions, trying to make her see that staying home with me was quite frankly the better choice.  How when she finally resigned herself to walking out of the house it was to the cacophony of my tears and screaming.  How I’d race under the table and sit there and cry because I couldn’t reconcile why she left instead of staying with us.  How much I missed her.  How much I wished she wouldn’t go.

Well, around that time there was a show on tv called “Gimme a Break” who’s star was Nell Carter.  A shorter, chocolatey, full figured woman who wore flowy mumus and could SANG her ass off.  It was a sitcom.  But I found boundless comfort in watching the show as a child because Nell reminded me of my mommy.  Shorter stature… plump like my mommy so I could rest my head and be at peace.  Sassy like mom but in a louder way than my mom would ever do it.  Musical like my mommy.  And the glue that held it all together.  All that was missing was my mom’s beloved and beautiful “chenette”: the tooth wide gap in her teeth only brandished when she’d have a full on laugh.  Nell’s teeth were straight.

One day, I took it upon myself to tell my mom that I was comforted by the image of this woman on tv because she reminded me SO much of her.   I thought this news would give her relief since my carrying on and weeping and gnashing of teeth was probably the last thing that she wanted to see / hear on the way to the night shift.     Well.  I thought wrong.  She was MORTIFIED.  How could i think that someone so black… so fat… so … “coon-y” (in her opinion) could reminder ME of HER???  I know that her primary issue was with her weight.  But honestly? At the time my mom wasn’t far from where Nell was.   It was shades of difference.   After her poor reaction, i never mentioned it again and allowed myself to be quietly soothed by the image of Nell on the screen at night once a week.

Fast forward.  Following in my mom’s footsteps in more than one way as of late, I find myself at a retreat for folks interested in supporting a particular charity that benefits children.  A new co-worker and I hit it off and she and I become fast friends.  She’s endeared to me and I think that I like my energy when she’s around.   And in a moment she blurts out – “You know… you remind me of Nell Carter…”

In that instant, I was totally honored and completely horrified.   I completely understood what my mom had been saying but at the same time… I was able to tap into the part of me that appreciated her because she was everything I needed for me to hold on until mom got home.

 

I’m sorry if I offended you, mom… but I really did think she was beautiful – just like you.

 

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