Next Sunday will mark the 48th anniversary of the March on Washington. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s stirring "I have a dream" speech still resonates. Sadly, his dream is not yet fulfilled, despite the intervening years.
I was there that sweltering summer day. I knew as the words rang out that it was a call to arms. But almost 50 years later, what I also want to pay tribute to is the woman who took me on the bus from Baltimore to be a part of that momentous day; the woman who taught me the importance of never judging anyone by the color of their skin, their religion, or their sexual preferences. As she took her young daughter to the March on Washington, she also took Helen Jones, the lady who came once a week to clean our house. I was too young to go by myself; Helen too scared. Both encouraged, supported, and protected by Big Evelyn, as my mother was known in her family (as distinguished from Little Evelyn, her cousin, who was indeed six inches shorter than she), Helen and I walked with Mom from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial, surrounded by hundreds of thousands of others, united in our quest for justice.
I've been thinking a lot about my mother. Her birthday is next month. She's been gone for 23 years – just six weeks after my daughter was born. I am convinced that was no coincidence. She was so very sick, but absolutely determined to live to see her oldest grandchild graduate from high school and to hold her only granddaughter in her arms. My mother was a force of nature. There must have been times when she was scared and worried, but I never saw it. She was a product of the depression, an orphan by the age of 25, widowed by 28 with a 14-month old daughter to care for. But she took a second chance on love and married my Dad, and then had me. She taught me that you play the hand you're dealt, you cope because that's what you do. She laughed louder and longer than anyone. Loved designer clothes and put them on layaway to buy them. Had big feet – and a bigger heart.
She wasn't perfect. She had a trigger temper, but didn't hold a grudge. Demanded that you had good manners and showed respect for all people. Her best Jewish guilt line, that inevitably got me to do what I fervently didn't want to do was: "Marian, you know what the right thing is." Phooey, she always had me with that admonition -- even when I was married and had kids of my own. She insisted that I do the right thing, even when the wrong thing would be easier and more fun.
She fought against injustice wherever she saw it. Her best friends reflected her belief that you choose your companions because you like them and share common interests, so they included an Orthodox Jew, a devout Catholic, an African-American Southern Baptist, and a host of others. If you enjoy good conversation, laughter, the theater, jazz, and yes, mystery novels, you'd have loved my mother.
It's hard to live up to someone like Mom – and she'd be furious with me that I worry about that. But as I think back to that March on Washington, what an incredible gift she gave me. The lessons I learned from her, the original Evelyn, have lasted a lifetime.
Marian, the Northern half of Evelyn David
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