From Chicken Soup for the African American Soul

My Mother’s Gift

Diptheria swept through my neighborhood when I was a small boy and it took many lives, including that of my little buddy, a boy everyone called “Gramps.” He and I contracted it about the same time and we became backyard buddies; we played together because no one else would for fear of contracting what we had.

When Gramps’s condition worsened, his mother got enough money together so that she could afford to take him to the hospital. He died there. It was my first exposure to the death of someone my own age. I had thought only old people died. I could not understand why Gramps would die, especially since, at the wake, he looked to be just asleep.

With the death of Gramps and several other neighborhood children, my mother became extremely protective of me. She was determined not to lose me. She refused to put me in the hospital because Gramps had died there. She talked the doctors into giving her the expensive medicine so that she could administer it herself. I can still envision how her hands shook when she gave it to me because she was so fearful of wasting any of it.

Mama did not sleep much during my illness but one night when she had gone to her own room to get some rest, I awoke to see a figure at the end of my bed. I recognized Miss Henry, an elderly neighbor whom I had often visited before her death several months earlier. Miss Henry loved me. I would sit by her bedside for hours and talk to her.

When I saw that it was Miss Henry who had come to my bedside, I yelled for my mama. “Mama! Miss Henry is in my room!” Mama came running. She was angry. My mama believed in stories of dead people who come back to try to take loved ones with them. After nursing me along, she surely was not going to let Miss Henry get me.

Mama came storming into the room cursing, “If she ain’t dead yet, she soon will be!”

I had NO idea how Mama was going to kill Miss Henry AGAIN! But Mama didn’t get the chance. When she came into the room and turned the light on, Miss Henry disappeared.

Mama kept cursing just in case she was hanging around somewhere. “Don’t you come in here ever again messin’ with my boy!” Mama said. “Stay outta this house!”

After her cursing wore down, Mama went to praying at my bedside and apparently the prayers did their work. In the next few days, the diptheria began to release its hold on me.

Then, just as it appeared that I was recovering, I came to her one morning after awakening and my voice was gone. Mama was devastated. After all she had gone through in dealing with my illness, she feared it had sneaked back in and robbed me of my voice forever.

That night, she set to praying again, “Lord, give the child my voice. I’ve talked enough in my life. I don’t need my voice no more.”

In the morning, I awakened and I called to my mother. My voice had returned. My mama said, “Thank God!”

Or she tried to say that. Her voice was nothing but a squeak. I swear it is true.

She went to the medicine cabinet and took some of my diptheria medicine herself, and in a few hours her voice returned. But always after that, if I sassed my mother or she heard me curse, she reminded me of that time.

She would say, “You talk like that again, I’ll take my voice back. I asked Jesus to give you my voice and he did. You use it like that, I’ll take it back.

“You know Jesus does what I ask of him!”

I intend to use my mama’s voice for good, lest I lose it for good. I urge you to use your talents and gifts to their fullest, too.

Les Brown

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