How I Got My “Soul”

Yeah, I know I’m a white chick from the North Shore of Chicago, but my early development from age three to eight was largely shaped by my African American “second” Mom. Anna Mae, at 275 pounds, was an imposing, strong woman that I felt shielded me from the relentless teasing from older brothers.  She left her own children in Gary Indiana to come for five days and nights to manage us and our household. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to leave your own kids for so many days at a time to care for someone else’s.
Anna Mae used to rack up these massive phone bills. I think I recall hearing them being about sixty dollars a month which was serious money in those days. Looking back, I’m sure that’s how she kept in contact with her family. My parents were not happy about it, but to their credit, their compassion for her separation left them grumbling, but allowing.
She came to look over four badly behaved kids whose own mother was extremely hard of hearing from the spinal meningitis she suffered at age two. We were always acting out and pushing our boundaries and limits. Mom could read lips, but if you turned your head you could say anything at all. Mom couldn’t hear us so you could imagine what we got away with. In fact, to demonstrate this with one of my friends on the way to Glenview Country Club, I said “fuck you Mom” thinking I was so clever in front of my friend Nancy. I didn’t think my mom could read lips in the rear view mirror, but she did.  Boy, did she get angry!  She surprised me  in an angry scowl , “I don’t ever want to hear you ever say that again”! As I tried to disappear and sink into the back seat I defiantly thought to myself, “you really mean that you don’t ever want to “see” me say that again”.
One of my most favorite memories with Anna Mae was when we would hang out in our large porch that had a checkered linoleum floor. We would watch American Bandstand with Dick Clark together and Sooooooooooooooouuuuuuuuuuuuuuullllllllllllllll Train & Don Cornelious. Anna Mae was an amazing dancer despite her size. She could glide across the floor, and knew all the new cool dance moves. We all learned the dances that were forbidden at the formal Mrs. Wilson’s Dance Classes.
Anna Mae would point out to us the white men dancing in the audience on TV that clearly had no rhythm and looked awkward as they tried to dance.  She showed us how black men would use their knees as sort of “shock absorbers” to smooth out their movements. Much like the shock absorbers on car would help with a smooth ride. We could easily see how jerky the movements of white men were. Probably because they didn’t have Anna Mae to teach them soft knees. After a while it was pretty obvious that black men were always the better dancers. Anna Mae could have made money being a dance instructor because my brothers have always been the best dancing white men I have ever seen until watching shows like SYTYCD came along.
As I mentioned, Anna Mae was a truly large, but agile woman. Of course, I loved her just the same, but in retrospect, I am sure this was confusing for me.  You see, in our family it was not OK to be overweight.  Mom was still proudly wearing her high school clothes.  The old saying that was clearly operative in our family, “One could never be too rich, or too thin”.
Anna Mae’s legs and arms were massive. As she sat on this black window seat as we watched these shows, I would marvel that her weighty legs left heel dents from her shoes in the hard linoleum floor . We had the best playroom/porch floor for dancing. It had these large sized “chess” like squares in two colors, brown and beige. A perfect floor for dancing to Chubby Checkers and doing the “twist”.  It was OK to love my severely obese protector and surrogate Mom, and I wholeheartedly did. Yet, it was not OK to love myself, if I was overweight. How does a 5 year old process this? Perhaps even worse, did this big woman I loved served another predictive purpose? Would I end up looking like Anna Mae, and be mercilessly teased by my all too willing to tease brothers?

I loved Saturday mornings because we got a “real breakfast”. Weekday mornings had to be quick, but we loved the soothing sugary substitute for our lack of time like Frosted Flakes, Cap’n Crunch, Rice Crispies, Fruit Loops, etc.  Regardless of the day of week, the breakfasts all had one thing in common. Sugar. I remember being furious that I could only have one bowl of these sugar laced cereals, while the boys could have as many bowls as they wanted. What we are forced to resist, no doubt, persists. For some reason I remember my eldest brother eating alone in the formal dinning room at a place Anna Mae had set for him. Was he in charge way back then??? Did it give his teasing more authority?
We also learned the art of distracted eating.  As we ate, we watched cartoons and The Three Stooges. Yes, as a girl I loved The Three Stooges & Laurel and Hardy. I think my brothers learned much from these comedians. American Bandstand and Soul Train came on later in the morning on Saturday.  You’d think I might have danced off the calories from my carbo charged breakfasts, but I’m afraid I was gradually adding pounds already. It was all such a mixed message. Above all, Be thin… but soothe yourself with massive amounts of sugar to jump start your day?

About spatch

I'm a senior associate with the marketing arm of a billion dollar plant based pharmaceutical company that is "Bringing the Best of Science & Nature to Humankind" The patented plants pick the people! I have been on a weight loss journey my entire life and have many stories to share that may serve others. I seek to brighten any room I enter and am a writer, artist & singer/songwriter performing in southern California.
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