- Donna Brazile remembers her mother, the smell of jambalaya and the rules she lived by
- She offers up those 10 rules she learned from her mom, Jean
- "Jean cooked like she lived -- with largesse," she says of her mother
It's been 25 years since I last heard my mother's voice. Jean was home in New Orleans, fretting about the ingredients for her jambalaya, preparing a big tossed green salad.
I'll never forget her.
The look she would give me simply to shut up, or how she raised her hand, signaling it was time to stop playing around. The sound of her small feet walking toward the back of the house, then her waking us up in the order of our birth: Cheryl, Sheila, Donna, Teddy, Chet, Lisa, Demetria, Kevin and Zeola.
When she called, we had to start moving. Right then or else.
My mom passed away when I was in my 20s, but she's still with me today.
How could I forget her, when every day I'm reminded of her loving spirit, her decency, her humor, her optimism, her generous spirit -- and those rules?
My mom was born and died at Charity Hospital in New Orleans. Appropriate -- because she was a living embodiment of charity. Despite having nine children, my mother always had some spare food or clothing or -- whatever -- for any child in the neighborhood in need. She taught us how to share, how not to waste anything, how to think about others who had even less than we did.
That's why I have to think constantly of ways to give back.
She was a friend and confidante to everyone, and a keeper of secrets. She was an optimist. I don't think she knew how to complain.
Jean wanted everybody to be happy. (My oldest sister, Cheryl, started calling her "Jean," and it stuck.) One weekend, I came home from college and told my mom about a roommate who had a difficult time going back home to rural Louisiana. Jean said to invite her to our house. I asked where would she sleep, and my mom answered with her big smile, "There's enough room for everyone if they just scoot over and make space for others."
Jean made room for others. She had to. She came from a family of seven, and my dad, Lionel, was from a family of 12. Everyone was welcome, anytime -- but they had to bring their own beer. (The Kenner Grocery Store, behind the train tracks on the corner, was open late.)
Food was plentiful. Jean cooked like she lived -- with largesse. Red beans and rice with smoke sausage and French bread. A large green tossed salad with dressing, stirred with pickles. For dessert, bread pudding made with leftover bread, cane sugar, butter, cinnamon and raisins.
After our meals and once we removed the throw rugs and put the furniture against the wall, we had a dance floor.
My brother Teddy Man and I did the James Brown moves; our cousin Gale did the funky chicken better than anyone on the block. The older kids showed off their fancy footwork, doing the Popeyes or Four Corners.
Soon the adults took over. That's when I learned how to really dance. Jean told us, "Straighten up your backs, never bend over. Raise up your arms like a bird in the sky and sway those hips from side to side." After a while, I realized my Mom was also getting us to work off some of the good food.
My mom led by example: Step up, speak up, be dignified, be respectful -- and be tolerant of others.
Her rules have sustained me, guided me and inspired me. I share them with my nieces and nephews -- many of them never met their Maw-Maw, as Janika, her oldest grandchild, referred to her.
Here are 10 of Jean's rules:
1. Don't you ever talk back to grown folks.
2. If you make a mess, clean it up.
3. Don't expect others to do for you what you're not willing to do for yourself.
4. Get up and go to work. If you want it bad enough, earn it.
5. Watch what you say.
6. If you have something to give, then go ahead and share it.
7. Never go to a party before eating at home. You'll regret it later.
8. If you lie, you steal. If you steal, you kill. So always tell the truth. And if you're wrong, ask for forgiveness.
9. Have faith in God. Prayers work.
10. Nobody has all the answers, so if you get lost, ask for help.
I last talked with Jean the day before her death. She wasn't feeling well. She was tired. My sister Sheila told her to take the day off from work. A day later, Jean went to the emergency room and never came home again.
My mom was -- is -- unique. Isn't yours? To honor Jean's spirit on Mother's Day, I will cook a delicious Cajun or Creole meal. I hope you're doing something special to honor your mom.
So, in appreciation to all the mothers out there, the soon-to-be moms, the PANKs (Professional Aunt No Kids) and those who embrace motherhood at some level, thank you.
Thank you, Jean!