My Gem of a Mother

Written by Nicole A. Davis

When asked to write about my mother, who died over 32 years ago, I was not sure what to say. After careful reflection, I saw that ours was a relationship full of love, virtue, and vision.

The daughter of Jamaican immigrants, my mother was born with a veil over her face. In the Black Christian tradition, such a veil symbolizes the gift of prophecy. Hers was a challenging, but fulfilling life. She lived with sickle cell anemia. She became a registered nurse and loved her career. An excellent judge of human character, many called her a confidant, counselor, role model, sister, aunt and friend.

One day, she met the man who would be her husband for life. He was a mail carrier by day and a graduate student by night. He was handsome, charming and extremely kind. They married in November of 1958 and I was born in July of 1962. Shortly after her near-death labor experience when I was born, she said to her brother, “I will probably only live to see Nicki turn 21.” It was prophetic. A month and half after my 21st birthday she died of pancreatic cancer.

Don’t be sad for her as you continue to read this, though. Rather, rejoice in the lessons she passed on to make me the faith-filled, loving, enterprising and productive woman I am today. In Proverbs 31, Solomon pens the virtues of a “good wife”. At first read, the goals seem lofty, but as I dove into the passage, I realized that my mother led a virtuous life filled with wisdom, laughter, diplomacy, respect, and just plain ol’ common sense.

My parents’ vision for living a good life included owning a home in New Jersey and one in the Poconos — before the area became popular. Our family life was enriched by fine art, cultural outings and education. My Dad was an educational visionary and advocate for underserved students. He was a man ahead of his time and focused students on math and science. We call it STEM today.

My mother supported my father’s mission by maintaining a well-managed household. She did not involve him in household challenges or chores unless there were major financial implications. She kept our family’s finances on track and her financial savvy was admirable. I still have a budget notebook she kept. It lists their income, their actual expenses, and what she sent to the savings account or her lingerie draw.
My Mom died as I entered my senior year at Howard University. Nine months later when I went to the infamous “A” building to make sure that my bill was clear, it was (in the words of Erik B and Rakim) “Paid in Full”. Her love for me and her vision for my life were stronger than the cancer that took her from me.

A statuesque fashionista, she loved to shop for deals and “steals”. Knowledgeable about appropriate attire for life’s events, she would say, “Nicki, suits are not to be worn as separates and should be dry cleaned as a unit.” I have fond memories from childhood of going to Saks Fifth Avenue in New York City the day after Christmas each year to buy my winter dress coat. We would park in the public garage across from Studio 54 and walk over to Saks. The coat I remember most was camel hair with a rabbit-trimmed collar. She instructed me, “If anyone asks you, this was your “Christmas gift.”

One of her favorite songs was the Commodores’ Once, Twice, Three Times a Lady. I always thought it was a tad corny until I read the song’s lyrics for this piece. I now understand why she so loved it so much. “Now that we have come to the end of our rainbow, you are once, twice, three times a lady, and I love you.”

Her legacy lives in me and others in her circles of influence. My mother taught me how to be a virtuous woman. She taught me to look to the Lord in times of trial and triumph; to honor my husband; to love and forgive my family; to find a bargain; to wear stockings when necessary and a good-fitting bra all the time; to be a good friend; to apologize when I’m wrong; to find humor in the best and worst of times; to have faith; and to give God thanks.

Full of vision, virtue, and valor, she was Pearl Ashley DeSane. She was my gem.

Nicole Davis is a freelance writer specializing in grief counseling. Follow Nicole on Twitter @nicoleadavis2.