Mama Gave Me the Gift of Christmas…Even After She Was Gone

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By Charles K. Poole

Twenty-two years ago I celebrated what would be my last Christmas with my Mom. I didn’t know that would be the case, but I believe she did.

Moms always have that special way of keeping information like that to themselves, especially when they believe doing so will protect their children. And if there was ever a Mom who fiercely did everything she could to protect her kids, Clara Louise Poole was that woman.

When Christmas rolled around in 1991 — after seven years of surgeries, recoveries and prognoses that she proved wrong — she was in good spirits. She seemed determined to enjoy every moment…donned a Santa cap, laughed, reminisced, found the energy in her weakened — yet resilient — state to adorn virtually every inch of the apartment with Christmas “stuff,” as she called it.

Despite my loathing of putting up adornments only to take them down, I helped her decorate. I’m a Mama’s boy, and making her happy was my purpose in life, period. We went through so much together, endured great hardship and somehow — with God’s grace — survived. She sacrificed so much for us…under circumstances that would have broken a lesser person.

Years before that last Christmas, my family was homeless for nearly 18 months. We lost our home to a fire, and, with it, our identity. It was tough to live this way as a kid, but it was tougher on her.

Where I grew up it was hard for everyone and folks didn’t offer to help us because they couldn’t even help themselves. When everyone survives paycheck to paycheck, picking up the pieces and carrying on is easier said than done. We couldn’t afford to stay in a cheap motel until things improved.

Don’t get me started on so-called shelters. Until you know what it can be like for a woman with children in a shelter, you should never recommend it. Oh, and the promise of the social safety net? Well, it’s a myth. We applied for welfare, but it took almost 18 months before the system got around to “resolving our case.”

Blaming Mama for her circumstances, folks bullied her. The attacks were direct and subtle, but always brutal. She never let us know how much it hurt her when people said horrible things or turned their backs on her. She told us that people could be cruel about what they didn’t understand and that we shouldn’t worry about her—“I’ll be just fine; you’ll see,” she’d say.