By Francis Ewherido
A section of Christendom celebrates Mother’s Day tomorrow, and I crave your indulgence to pay tribute to my mother.
I have known mama since the 60s when children called their mothers mama; mummy and mumsie were nonexistent then. By the time I was conscious of my surroundings, my father was already off to the University of Lagos for further studies, so mama was the only parent I grew up seeing every day.
I was close to her and followed her everywhere. I was called her hand bag. We loved her and she lavished love on her children. That is why, as a child, I could not understand why she allowed medical personnel to inflict so much pain on me (injections) while she watched.
Mama was very strict when we were growing up. She made it her priority that my father must meet us intact the way he left us for school. *Every parent plays a role in a child’s upbringing; while my father taught us humility and integrity, mama taught us self worth, dignity and courage.
Mama is virtuous and prayerful. While growing up, she and my father ensured we prayed in the morning and in the evening every day. As time went on she kept adding to the prayers and our 40-minute evening prayer soon stretched into an hour plus.
On this day, mama added another item again and when prayers were over, we raised the issue. Surprisingly, my father concurred. Mama was stunned. “Towewe?” (Even you, or more like et tu, Brute?), she exclaimed. She was surprised because they never took sides with the children against each other; their lives were intertwined, nobody could come between them. So the incident was an aberration. But there were to be two more such aberrations.
Christmas of 1986 fell on a Friday. At this time, mama had stopped eating meat on Fridays in deference to Christ who died on a Friday. But my siblings and I argued that this Friday should be an exception since it was Christmas day.
With this we attacked the Christmas chicken. She grudgingly ignored us, but when my father also started eating the chicken, mama lost it: “So you are also eating meat with the children on a Friday?” To which my father responded: “Paulina, the children are right this time.” Whether it was the thought of not eating chicken on Christmas day or our argument that swayed my dad, I do not know, but he certainly broke mama’s heart that day.
The third incident happened a year later. This time the table was turned. I had just come back to Warri from Lagos where I did my internship with The Punch Newspaper. I regaled my parents with my Lagos experience. Somewhere along the line I told them about an NTA newscaster and said she had the best set of teeth I had ever seen.
Then my father thundered: “How come you looked at a married woman so much that you noticed her beautiful teeth? He felt I had looked at the newscaster lustfully and so committed adultery. “Please leave my son alone,” mama shot back to my surprise and delight, “you are taking this your piety too far.” The irony was that the newscaster was single, even though she was a very senior babe.
That I can speak Urhobo fluently is courtesy of mama. In the early 70s, mama prohibited the speaking of English in the house. She reasoned that we would learn to speak English and Isoko (the local dialect in Ozoro where we were resident) in school, but we would not have the opportunity to learn or speak Urhobo elsewhere. How prophetic.
That was exactly what happened; we not only spoke Urhobo at home, we spoke our Ewu dialect even though some of us had never been to our village then. Even prayers were conducted entirely in Urhobo. Today, I am struggling to teach my children to speak Urhobo; just any Urhobo dialect will do, but I have not achieved 10 per cent of mama’s success.
Mama is also mainly responsible for the bond among her children. Even as little children, he drummed into our heads with parables that we are one and kept reiterating it as we grew older. Mama used proverbs to carry out much of the character formation and bonding of her children.
On our oneness, she kept reminding us that even though the two components that constitute the male genitals (penis and scrotal sack) were different, you cannot draw the dividing line. That was easy for us to understand because we were all boys
Over the years, as I grapple with the upbringing and character formation of my own children, my love and respect for mama have grown. Many times, I just sit and wonder how she managed to successfully raise eight boys. Sometimes I call her for advice when I come on short.
Like old wine, she has grown in wisdom over the years. At over 80 years, she is still mentally alert, no iota of senile decay; all forms of ageing are physical.
This Mother’s Day gives everyone born of a woman an opportunity to reminisce on their own story — the love and heroic sacrifices of great and super mothers. We must always be thankful for the gift of motherhood. To Mama Paulina Powder Ewherido and all the wonderful mothers out there, Happy Mother’s Day. I love you all.