Thursday, November 20, 2008

Memories of Decadence

My memories of decadence having nothing to do with material wealth. As a child, my parents provided for us as well as, if not better than, most U.S. African families. I was privileged to have college-educated parents, a father who took graduate courses in taxation, a mother who dedicated her life to rearing her children and supporting her husband, a three bedroom, two bath home with a two and one-half car garage (hey in Detroit your garage had to have enough room for two cars and the other stuff), and an abundance of love. While we had everything materially that we ever wanted and asked for, my decadence comes from the sheer leisure that my mother imbued her children with whenever she felt it necessary to our well being.

There were periods when my mother would remove each one of us from school and allow us to do whatever we wanted to do for the day. I recall having lunch at Elias Brother's Big Boys, then wanting to go either to the library or to a bookstore and get a book. Then I was allowed to sit and read all day, undisturbed.

Today as I made a cup of ginger root tea and grabbed Du Bois's "Black Reconstruction," I felt so giddy I had to examine the roots of this giddiness. I suddenly realized that my feelings come from the absolute pleasure that my mother insist that my siblings and I have in books and intellectual engagement. Quiet time in our house was not often spent in front of a television, although we did watch our share of television as children. However, quiet time usually centered around each one of us choosing a book and sitting down to read. While my siblings may have read for an hour or two, I recall reading until I was beckoned to the table to eat. Only my brother could out read me. Sometimes he would raise his head from a book, his eyes bloodshot and blurry, to tell me about how many Russian lives were lost collectively in the two World Wars. I wasn't very interested in Russian history, but he was and no one could get him to stop talking about Russia until we all stopped what we were doing and listen to him.

Toni Morrison once bemoaned the fact that as a whole, some of us are no longer trained to sit alone with our own minds for lengthy periods; or alone and engaged with the mind of an author. I wonder how people fill their time if they are not reading and thinking, habits that are so intrinsic to the constructions of my siblings and me as productive citizens of the world, that it is unimaginable for me to understand one's purpose for living if that purpose does not revolve around ideas and the expansion of one's intellect.

So, as they say, I am as happy as a clam. Du Bois and I are about to get it on again. And after Du Bois, C.L.R. James is by my bedside. It's nice to have a stack of men by my bedside just waiting with baited breath for me to caress their covers and flip through their pages. Okay, I'm writing about books. But as one critic argued, "there is pleasure in the text."

5 comments:

All That Jazz said...

Michele,

Thank you for re-minding me how very special our parents are/were and the wonderful childhood they insisted on providing us. I too often muse over the source of my bliss when reading or otherwise engaged in intellectual stimulation.

Nina

M. L. Simms said...

Yes, weren't we so privileged. It is amazing how natural it was for intellectual engagement and critical thinking to be so much of the fabric of our upbringing, and how naive we were about how mom and dad were constructing us. At times, I simply cannot believe the environment we came from, and the sacrifices that mom and dad made to make us who we are.

E. said...

I can only imagine in awe....

ssascms said...

Mom was the solid foundation at home; the planner, the fountain of parenting knowledge. She was a fantastic human being; not perfect far from perfect, but simply amazing. And, she made it seem so natural, and of course, it was natural within our home with her at the head. An avid reader, she was, while I was not. As her home library grew exponentially + with my career, my excuse became that I had too much army stuff to read. Every now and then, she would get me to read a book with her or after her so we could discuss it, like the "The Spook That Sat By The Door", or "The Man In The Grey Flannel Suit", or "The Peter Principle", etc. Of course you could plainly see what were her reasons. Now, Charles, Jr. used to get a big kick out of questioning my military knowledge after watching a particular segment on the History Channel and/or after reading half of an encyclopedia. Yes, he was a military historian and he loved it. Although he read a lot about Russia, his favorite historical individual was Hitler, and rightfully so. At times, Charles also loved to ask me questions like who scored the last run between the Tigers and the Yankees on a particular day that occurred several years ago, and he had the nerve to look at me with the amazement that me, his father, did not remember that specific occassion. And, he'd do the same thing with me about past foot ball games. Admittedly, these would be games that he and I had watched together perhaps last year or a couple years ago. Although he would offer the appearance of wondering why I did not remember, I could tell by his body language he got a big kick of getting one over on the "ole man". He was good! He'd try this on Mom every now and them, but she knew how to handle him. I can see him now picking her up like a little rag doll with Mom saying; "Charles, put me down", and he would be laughing, after Mom would not play his quizzing game. He had quite a memory regarding events of the past as an avid reader. And, Mom is responsible for all of these positives within our family. Yes, it was a great life coming home and seeing you kids being so happy with Mom; she was your buddy but at the same she was Mom when she had to be. How did she do it is still amazing; at times she would remark: "I have five kids", and you knew what she meant. I'm sure she looking down with smile as we write these things about her.

P.S. She was a Mom, a source of comfort to many other kids in the neighborhood in that she was one of the very few mothers who did not have to work. I will always love your mother!

M. L. Simms said...

Dad, of course she is looking down upon us with smiles. I still am in awe how she negotiated everything. And of course, it was just second nature. Yes, and I recall Charles and those sport statistics and how he would quiz you. I also remember him sitting in the bushes beside the fence and quizzing Mr. Bowie before he died. I don't know if I told you, but when I was writing my dissertation, whenever I needed to verify an historical fact, I'd ask Charles. When I later checked his recollection, he was always right.