From Chicken Soup for the African American Soul

Miz Moore

How simple a thing it seems to me that to know ourselves as we are, we must know our mothers’ names.

Alice Walker

I grew up in a time when you could leave the doors unlocked while you took a walk to the A&P for groceries— back when there were real grocery stores in a black neighborhood. Back when you knew most of the neighbors and who their children were. Back when folks seemed to be mindful of who was hangin’ out with your kids. Back when you knew that if your children did something they shouldn’t have, someone in the neighborhood would let their momma or daddy know for sure. And back when everybody knew “Miz Moore.”

Miz Moore had six children of her own, but at some point she became Momma to almost every child in the neighborhood. Everyone, that is, except the bully and the “evil one” (today they’d probably call him a sociopath). We lived in a neighborhood where nearly every household had two working parents struggling to make sure the newly acquired mortgages were paid. Newly acquired, because when we first moved in, there were only two black families in the neighborhood. Within five years, few white families remained.

Miz Moore made the conscious decision to stay home and raise her children. To compensate, she did lots of things to save money, from returning milk bottles for a refund to canning or freezing anything she could get. She would pick vegetables out of someone’s overabundant garden and turn them into something fantastic. We looked forward to the chow chow or relish she made to go with a pot of beans and a skillet of hot cornbread. We’d shuck bushels of fresh corn for hours on the back porch, peel tomatoes or whatever else for canning in anticipation of her making something special, like homemade ketchup, or her special grape juice.

Carol Jane, our next-door neighbor and best friend of my younger sister, used to love to come over every day and ask for a couple of thick, salty slices of Miz Moore’s homemade canned dill pickles, sometimes staying to talk over whatever was on her mind. Most kids who knew her thought Miz Moore could solve any problem. I distinctly remember the day when Larry, Carol’s older brother, went limping over, blood pouring from his knee, with a couple of his friends. He and his friends had been playing with a BB gun, and he’d been shot. The problem was that his mother had ordered him not to play with guns. He sat there with his leg propped up in the green vinyl-covered chrome dining room chair, trying to convince Miz Moore she could somehow fix his knee, even though it was clear the shots had caused some major damage, far more than a Band-Aid’s worth.

He kept saying over and over, “Miz Moore, you can fix anything; I know you can.”

After several minutes, she convinced him that she had to call his mother—a nurse.

Miz Moore was a peacekeeper, a friend, a bit of a superwoman. Once, she stood at the end of the walk, her five-foot-two frame drawn to full height. She shook her finger at a considerably taller and mean neighborhood child, telling him to get on back down the street after he had chased down another boy. He had run for his life and stood behind her, shaking his fist at the retreating figure as though he could actually do something.

She was a child advocate before it became popular. Back then, child abuse was not treated as the crime it is today. We knew who was being mistreated on the block. After we begged her, she even went down the street and tried to talk with our friend’s mother about her drinking and the beatings that came with her drinking. I remember how we nervously listened outside the front door while Miz Moore calmly spoke with her. I don’t recall whether it helped in the long run, but I think he got a few days’ reprieve from the beatings.

Miz Moore knew how to relate to the young. I still remember the day when we were practicing one of the latest dances—the Four Corners. She came in and watched for a while, much to our embarrassment. Back then, this dance was deemed risqué.

We expected disapproval, but she just remarked, “That doesn’t look much different than the ‘snake hip’ we used to do when we were young.”

We asked her what that was and without warning, she broke out into a hip-swinging, gyrating move that brought howls of surprise from all of us. Miz Moore could dance! She not only knew how to do the snake hip, she could cha-cha, bop, swing and waltz. And she taught us all of them.

As poor as the family was, she always managed to have a meal on the table at dinnertime. You could tell when funds and food were low. If it was the middle of the week and there was yellow puddin’ cake with a creamy, warm, chocolate sauce or a blackberry cobbler, you knew she was trying to make up for having served whatever she’d concocted for dinner, which was always somehow extra tasty to us.

If we asked her to repeat a dish from the week before, she’d say, “I’m not sure what I put in it; I just used whatever I could find in the freezer.”

The old freezer in the basement was magical: There was always something in there, even when there seemed to be nothing. Miz Moore could see past the surface; she was a little magical herself. I believed she could make lemonade without lemons. She always found a way.

Recently, we sat around her house in the afterglow of a tremendous Thanksgiving feast with childhood friends and relatives streaming in from their own family dinners. I reflected upon the results of all the caring, the tears, the sharing, the fears that came with the journey she had taken to this point in her life. It was especially touching to see grown men from the old neighborhood, sitting around laughing about old times and paying Miz Moore the respect and the love she had earned from the days long ago—while they relayed stories about their adventures they thought she didn’t know.

It was even more wonderful to consider that with her courage, her innovation, her strength, creativity and tenacity, she managed to bring up six children, none of whom are in jail or on drugs. Being poor was not an acceptable excuse for not being the best you could be— whatever you decided to become. And those who decided to marry brought up their children with the same style and class. All of her grandchildren completed college; one is pursuing a Ph.D. All of them see some connection between their success and Miz Moore, also known as Grammy, Gram, Grandmother, even Mom by adults who tend to adopt her as their own.

I find myself smiling sometimes, when I am seeking a solution to a seemingly impossible task or when I have been victorious in a given situation. My creativity and tenacity were often the only things I brought to the table. I recall what Miz Moore always told me, “Nothin’ beats a failure but a try.”

In my own way I’m hoping I become a Miz Moore, passing on the same strong wisdom, love and life example to the generations to come. Since Miz Moore is my momma, I know I’m off to a good start!

Edwina Joyce Moore

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