Saying goodbye to a mother : a tribute to my Big Mama

by lisha epperson

me, holding and loving the last baby in Big Mamas’ care…

I didn’t want to write this.  If I didn’t write it, I didn’t have to deal with it. Didn’t have to face the fact that “Big Mama” is gone.  Earlier this year the “Big Mama” of my community made her transition and is no longer living and loving on this earth.  As I thought about her life and legacy, it occurred to me that “Big Mama” was the ultimate adoptive mother…only she never did anything official or legal to claim her children…she simply loved them(us) and called us her own.  Her words and actions made it so.  And it was.

Denise Carmack earned the ultimate term of endearment –  “Big Mama.” I place her name in quotations to harness the bucketfuls of love that flow from such a title.  If you grew up in the hood you know exactly who and what I’m talking about – you’ll understand my sorrow because I am sure you had your very own.  My “Big Mama” was the biological mother of 5 children but the “other mother” to countless men, women and children.  She was mourned as if she were a saint and what she did around here was nothing short of holy.  She raised and advocated for children of parents not quite ready to parent, gave selflessly to anyone in need and treated us all to her larger than life personality.  In the 5 years of our friendship she gave me chili powder for my chili, underwear for my children, Christmas wrapping paper in July, and came to my rescue during a medical crisis.  Twice .  “Big Mama” was always there.  My children would race down the street to see who would be the first to win her embrace.  She danced with us, shaking her shoulders singing Young Jocs “meet me in the club, it’s going down”.  Her box braids and denim skirts, her voicemail greeting of “God has been good to me!”, her heart-shaped cakes and “if you need me, I’m there” spirit is sorely missed. Even today as I turn the corner on 5th Avenue I still expect to hear her laughing, yelling, “socializin” in the courtyard. I miss her.

She was the host of annual old school block parties, complete with blaring speakers, fried chicken and the hodge podge of personalities she called her family.  I think it’s entirely too quiet around here now.  Her love was so big that I still hear her yelling “Cut the wheel, you can’t park!”, every time I park my car. This same woman praised me publicly as a mother every chance she got.  Her seal of approval was not to be taken lightly, “Big Mama” would call you trifling in a minute.  I am graced to be considered in her eyes, worthy, of the title mother.

The last time I saw “Big Mama” she was returning from the hospital with her daughter after a minor surgery.  She didn’t look well and although I was rushing I stopped to pray with her. I am so grateful that I stopped that day.  I don’t always.  Sometimes I’m hustling the kids off to one event or the other and I don’t take that moment.  I rush off with a hurried wave and keep moving.  But that day I didn’t.  I’ve learned since then that you need to take the time.  We have to make it our business to show and be love… our relationships thrive on nothing less.  The connections that tie us one to another are made of the hundreds and thousands of small gestures/moments that ultimately give birth to friendships. It was the last time I saw her.  A few days later my husband came home red-eyed and weary.  “Big Mama” was gone. We huddled together with our children and wept.

So I’ll resume my blog with a tribute and shout out to my “Big Mama”.  A woman who nurtured, loved , fed and protected anyone in need.  I’ll honor her memory by remembering to take care of the people in my community in tangible ways, be it babysitting for a young mom so she can go on an interview, checking in with my elderly neighbors or finally being obedient and hosting a playground children’s story hour  (an idea the Lord gave me when we moved here).   Our communities need the nurturing that only mother love provides.  Let’s love the people in our lives.  Let’s love them Big.  And now I’ll release her, knowing that her kind of love can never be reigned in – nor should it ever be.  Let’s love them Big Mama style.