I return to Princeton Towers at Christmastime each year in honor of my mother, Dorothy, the inimitable and beloved ‘Heavy D’ (her ‘hood name given to her by her buddies Wayne and John when she moved to be with us in Southside Birmingham). Mom has now been gone five and a half years, and I still get a lump in my throat when I approach the two towers where she lived so happily the last two years of her life.
I was determined come Hell or high water not to run out of cookies this time, so I baked until I was about cross eyed, five different kinds of cookies and a banana bread for Mom’s best buddy, Linda. It is a small gesture; there are only a few seniors left there that I know now and that remember me and my mom…but I know. I’m a big believer in being good to the people who have been kind to you, and the sweet seniors at Princeton Towers were always so good to Mom and to me.
I’ve always been amazed at how what could have been a terrible experience turned out to be such a blessing; Mom was ninety when she moved to Princeton Towers after our home with all its many steps proved to be far too dangerous for her and her time living with my brother and sister-in-law in Atlanta ended. Princeton Towers is a government assisted home for seniors, primarily African American, serendipitously only eight minutes from our home, and they had an opening for Dorothy.
Mom grew up in the Deep South, the mountains of Tennessee, in a sad time of racial intolerance, and some of the most important events of the Civil Rights Movement took place here in Birmingham. Mom could have ended up being shunned by the residents, but that’s not what happened; Dorothy and her beautiful smile and generous spirit won the hearts of the residents, who accepted her with open arms. Mom always had a list of names of people she ‘had to’ make pies for, and she was always sharing her meals and her groceries with residents. It gave her purpose and that all important sense of belonging. My mother evolved during her lifetime, and I was so very proud of her.
I made tons of individual baggies filled with cookies and holiday candies to hand out to the residents, wrapped up Linda’s banana bread, and headed to see my friends. They had just finished their big Christmas party, so I was able to hand out lots of Christmas cheer. I love their faces when they realize that you are giving them something homemade just for them; perplexed at first and then such beautiful smiles. Some of them seem so lonely.
I visited with Linda and she shared the latest gossip and goings on around the Towers. I was also able to see Sylvester, the sweet gentleman who used to fix things for Mom, including the big horn on her walker. Linda mentioned sharing her banana bread with her son and his family on Christmas, and I told her that I’d make her another banana bread so that she could enjoy this one. So…I went home and baked more cookies and another bodacious banana bread (all while doing intermittent fasting and giving up sweets).
When I went back this morning, I went up to Linda’s apartment to visit for a little bit. She told me the other day that she would love to have something of Mom’s, and so I scoured through my remaining treasures and found three elaborate hair barrettes and two pretty Christmas pins to give Linda. I knew Mom would rather have her friend enjoy these things than have them sitting in a jewelry box. Linda was thrilled and immediately placed the bejeweled butterfly hair clip in her silver hair.
Every step of the way, I felt my mother with me so strongly, felt her smiling as I baked and as I visited Princeton’s residents. She loved Christmas more than any other holiday, and it’s always during this season of joy and light that I feel her loss the most keenly. I am so grateful for the wonderful example that she set of quiet strength and kindness- and an infectious love of Christmas. I will always do my best to follow in her steps- and I won’t forget her friends at the Home for Wayward Seniors.