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This microbook is a summary/original review based on the book: Mom & Me & Mom
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Publisher: Random House
The final book in a series of autobiographies, ‘’Mom & Me & Mom’’ examines Maya Angelou’s relationship with her mother, Vivian Baxter. Angelou portrays her mother as a strong and loving woman who supported her through single motherhood, a failed marriage, and career struggles. Angelou says she became the woman she did because of her mother. So, get ready to hear Angelou's personal story and the role her mother had in it!
The first of the six Baxter children, Vivian Baxter was born in the first decade of the 20th century in St. Louis, Missouri. Her father called himself a proud American citizen who came to Florida from Trinidad by evading immigration agents. Her mother, on the other hand, was of Irish descent and raised by German adoptive parents.
Vivian Baxter grew up in a violent environment. Her father taught his children to resolve all the conflicts physically, and, for this reason, the Baxter family was known as the ‘’Bad Baxters.’’ When someone would insult them, Baxters would track the offender and beat them. Although a girl, Vivian was not excluded from these conflicts - Angelou says she used to beat the offenders fearlessly, too. Her father proudly called her his ‘’little girl-boy.’’
Angelou’s mother, who she describes as a startling beauty, married her father in 1924. To distance themselves from her family, who disapproved of the marriage, the newlyweds moved away from them to California where Maya and her 2-year-older brother Bailey were born. Unfortunately for the children, it turned out the parents did not get along well. ‘’They were matches and gasoline,’’ writes Angelou. They separated quickly and, as neither of them wanted to take care of two toddlers, they sent Maya and Bailey to their father's mother in Arkansas.
When Bailey was 14, their grandmother realized it was no longer safe for them to stay with her. As Angelou explains, ‘’Black boys his age who even noticed white girls risked being beaten, bruised, or lynched by the Ku Klux Klan.’’ For this reason, Maya and her brother moved to California to live with their mother again. However, Angelou says that she did not want to reunite with Vivian. ‘’I was very comfortable with Grandmother Henderson,’’ she recalls. ‘’I loved her and I liked her and I felt safe under the umbrella of her love.’’ On the flip side, her brother longed to see their mother again.
Unlike her brother, who was comfortable with their mother from the moment they reunited, Maya could not forgive her for leaving them at such a young age. She could not even call her mother, but rather addressed her as ‘’Lady’’ for years after instead. Seeing her daughter’s resentment, Vivian explained she had to leave them for their own good. She told her: ‘’I missed you but I knew you were in the best place for you. I would have been a terrible mother ... It didn’t mean I didn’t love you; it just meant I wasn’t ready to be a mother.’’
Soon after they met their mother again, Bailey and Maya traveled to San Diego to meet their father. Bailey visited their father’s house first, and Maya went after him. Unfortunately, the visit was not a pleasant experience for her. One night, her father took Maya to dinner and got so drunk at the restaurant that he fell asleep in a car. Despite having no driving experience and aged 14 at the time, Maya decided to drive them home. When they arrived, Maya got into a fight with her stepmother, who blamed her for making her father drunk. She even cut Maya with sewing scissors to punish her.
After this incident, Maya left their house. Afraid that Vivian would take revenge on her father and stepmother for hurting her, Maya decided not to return home until her wound healed. Having nowhere to go, she lived in the street for a while. However, street life was surprisingly good to her. She befriended some Spanish kids who lived in a car and earned money for food by running small errands for people and collecting empty bottles. ‘’I thought it was a wonderful way to live,’’ writes Angelou.
When she healed, Maya ended ‘’that awful and peculiar summer,’’ and headed back to her mother in San Francisco.
In the last year of high school, Maya fell in love with 19-year old Babe. He was also interested in her and would often compliment her while she was passing through his block. He would say, ‘’Hey Maya, when you gonna give me some of that long, tall goodie?” One day, Maya decided to respond to his teasing and boldly asked him, “Hi, Babe. Do you still want some of this long, tall goodie?” Immediately after this, Babe invited her to his room, and she accepted. However, he was only interested in sleeping with her. Babe did not talk with her or kissed her. When they entered his room, he told her to take her clothes off, and they had sex. ‘’I was sorry I had been so bold,’’ writes Angelou when recalling this event.
Two months after meeting Babe, Maya realized she was pregnant. She told Bailey first, and he warned her not to tell their mother yet: ‘’She’ll take you out of school. You must finish high school now. If you don’t, you might never go back. You get that diploma.” As Vivian was often absent for work, Maya managed to graduate from high school, hiding her pregnancy until the ninth month.
When she finally confessed to Vivian, she asked whether Maya and Babe loved each other. When Maya said ‘’no,’’ her mother told her: “Well then, that’s that. We will not ruin three lives. We - you and I - and this family are going to have a wonderful baby. That’s all there is to that. Thank you, baby. Go on.”
The support Vivian showed made Maya realize how amazing her mother was - she never made her feel bad for getting pregnant so young. She did not think of her pregnancy as a scandal or something to be ashamed of. ‘’To Vivian Baxter that was life being life,’’ writes Angelou. This event brought the two women closer. After giving birth to her son Guy, Maya finally stopped calling Vivian ‘’Lady,’’ but addressed her as ‘’mother,’’ instead.
When her son was two months old, Maya found a job and moved away from her mother’s house. As she understood Maya’s need for self-reliance, Vivian approved her decision. ‘’Remember this,’’ she told her when Maya was leaving their house, ‘’you can always come home.’’
When Guy was 5 years old, Maya was working at the Melrose Record Shop. There she met Tosh Angelos, her future husband, who was a regular customer. Maya says he was funny, passionate, and caring to her and Guy. After dating for a few weeks, Tosh asked Maya to marry him, and she said yes. However, Vivian was against this marriage, as Angelos was a white man. She told Maya: “You know that I love you and that I hope you will be happy. You also know that I am not a liar, so I would not tell you that I expect you to be happy with the husband you have chosen.’’
In the beginning, Maya was satisfied with her marriage. However, she felt her mother had abandoned her again since she refused to speak with her. Fortunately, that changed after a while. Vivian came to her house to ask for her daughter’s forgiveness. She said, ‘’Baby, please forgive me. I don’t care if you marry a donkey; I will never walk off and leave you alone again.’’
After being married to Tosh for a while, Maya realized he was extremely possessive. He did want her to meet with her friends, forbid her to go to church, and made her quit dancing lessons. Consequently, she became unhappy, lost interest in the marriage, and avoided being intimate with her husband. ‘’The light in my marriage waned as the sun sets in the western sky,’’ comments Angelou.
Tosh and Maya got divorced peacefully. She says it seemed he was also relieved their relationship had ended. Maya decided to keep his last name because she ‘’liked the sound of it.’’ As Tosh was of Greek descent, his full name was Angelopoulos. Since the feminine form of Greek names has a common ending “-ou,” Maya shortened his full name to Angelou.
After the separation, Guy and Maya moved into a small two-bedroom apartment, and she started working as a dance performer at the Bonne Nuit Dance Club. When Maya told Vivian she had decided to divorce, as in the case of the pregnancy, she was supportive. Even though she had warned Maya that the marriage would fail, Vivian did not want to make her feel bad about her mistake.
When Guy was a high school student, Maya decided she wanted to learn to write. Therefore, they moved to Brooklyn, and she joined the Harlem Writers Guild.
In the meantime, Vivian formed a charitable group with her friends called the Stockton Black Women for Humanity. They collected secondhand clothes for the poor and donated scholarships to senior high school students. Her group became known quickly. Angelou remembers how the Mayor of Stockton asked Vivian to help a man and a woman who had lost their jobs and accommodation, and were sleeping in a car with their children. Vivian invited the family to her house, cooked them a large meal, and found them jobs and a place to live within a day. When the mayor contacted Angelou’s mother at first, she did not know Vivian was black. She was later amazed how the Stockton Black Women for Humanity did not care for racial differences. Angelou says women in the organization ‘’were gathered to serve all humanity: white, black, Spanish-speaking, and Asian; fat, thin, pretty, plain, rich, poor, gay, and straight.’’
Maya’s writing career was successful - she was eventually offered a lifetime professorship at Wake Forest University as Reynolds Professor of American Studies. Her mother was not well, though. She got lung cancer along with emphysema, and doctors estimated she had only three more months to live. Maya brought her to her house in North Carolina to take care of her. Two months after that, Vivian recovered, and none of the doctors could figure out how. ‘’She had chosen to be better,’’ Angelou writes. Within six months, Vivian gained weight and strength and began seeing her friends and going to church again.
Sadly, Vivian’s recovery was just temporary. When Maya returned from England, where she worked briefly as a visiting professor at the University of Exeter, her mother fell into a coma and died a few days later. Maya’s last words to her were: ‘’You were a terrible mother of small children, but there has never been anyone greater than you as a mother of a young adult.”
“Mom & Me & Mom’’ is a moving story about two courageous women who supported each other throughout their lives, sharing their happiness, pain, and sorrow together. It teaches us about the importance of forgiveness and the healing power of love. A must-read for all mothers and daughters.
Always be kind to your mother - she has made great sacrifices for you to be happy. Even if she sometimes hurts you, be aware she does not do it purposely.
Maya Angelou (1928–2014) was an American poet, memoirist, and civil rights activist. Being a single mother, Angelou did various jobs to support herself and her son before becoming a writer. She reflected on her life struggles in seven autobiographies, among which ‘’I Kno... (Read more)
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