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They Call Her Mrs. Mabel
2/20/2013 12:27:25 PM

By Beverly Gadson-Birch

As writers, sometimes we find ourselves fishing for a story to entertain or educate readers.  This week I was drawn to a more unlikely story that may have been lost in time after attending a funeral of one the mothers from my old neighborhood, Mabel Williams.  She was a part of that village we often speak of that has been instrumental in educating children.  Ms. Mabel, as she was more affectionately called by the neighborhood children, was laid to rest on Saturday.   En route to the funeral, I couldn’t help but reflect upon my earlier experiences and recollections growing up on a quiet cul-de-sac in Marysville.  Well, back then a street that was not a thoroughfare in a poor black neighbor was called a dead end street.  


Ms. Mabel’s funeral was held at a small church in my old community.  As my sister and I were getting out of the car, we ran into one of the children who grew up on our street.  As we walked together towards the church, we began reminiscing about the ladies of that day.  I mentioned that Ms. Mabel was a very quiet and sweet person who never spoke above a whisper.  Both ladies agreed.   And as an afterthought, I said I don’t remember any of the ladies on my street having to raise their voices to get our attention. And that is where my story begins.   Unlike the ladies of Ms. Mabel’s generation, my generation raised our voices.  Our children were of a different era.   We are talking about glue sniffers, crack heads, and children who are bouncing off the walls.   As next generation children, we weren’t as quiet mannered as Ms. Mabel and the other ladies on the street.  Some of our kids didn’t believe sugar was sweet; so, we had to not only raise our voices but we had to raise a little hell to get their attention.  And don’t even ask about today’s kids.  If I had to raise kids now, the good Lord knows I would be in jail.  My son is not married. I don’t have grandkids.   In a recent conversation with my son, I told him since he hasn’t blessed me with any grand children yet I am almost too old at this point to be trusted.  I told him to be on the safe side when he does, if they are not well mannered just keep them home.  Don’t even think about dropping them off to me.


There were no more than ten houses on my street and each house had a mother and a father. There were no single parent homes.  The ladies kept us straight.  Some of them saw things that our mothers did not see and they would call us aside and tell us to stay away from boys of ill repute.  Then some of those ladies would bypass us and go straight to our parents if they thought it was something they needed to follow up on.


Ms. Mabel had three children—two boys and a girl.   Allen read a poem and Johnny pretty much preached his mother’s eulogy by pointing out some highlights of her life. As he spoke my sister and I kept nodding our heads in agreement when he spoke about the mothers of our street and how involved they were with their children.  Education was a big thing for them.  They wanted their children to be educated.  They attended PTA meetings. Saturday nights found the mothers braiding the girls’ hair for Sunday School.  The boys had to polish their shoes. The ladies were quiet and gentle but they did not spare the rod.  If they did not whip your butt, your daddy did. 


Even in death, I was looking at Ms. Mabel’s children and how they were so much a reflection of her.  They also have a very quiet spirit.  I could see her in the grandchildren as well as they spoke of the spiritual influence their grandmother had on their lives.


There was an old neighborhood store that we frequented as kids.  Johnny said you could go anywhere but when you got close to the store, you knew you were back home in the neighborhood. It was a landmark.  The store owner, Mr. Washington,  knew us and knew our parents.  If we didn’t have the correct money for our purchase, he knew he could trust us to bring the balance back.  That’s when your word was worth something.


The other lady walking with us said, I am 55 years old and I feel guilty going out at my age.  She said the ladies on our street did not go out when they were my age.  I thought about that and that was true.  We could not think of one woman on that street that was hanging out or going out.  They were too busy raising their children to be successful in life.  We owe so much to them.


So, to Joan, Johnnie and Allen, on behalf of all of the Maryville children who came in contact with your mom, thank you for sharing her.    My dead end street will never be the same without Ms. Mabel and the other ladies who made up the village that made me who I am today. 



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