Momma always told me to get a good education.
"LilyAnn," she chimed. "Don't do what I did. I've got nothing but your papa, and y'll know he's questionable at times. What
if you don't find that with someone? A decent relationship? With that unbelievable
head of yours—" And here she'd point the stained wooden spoon or threadbare
dust rag she had tethered to her hand in my direction, "—you should be
able to get a good, proper, and useful education. That Bachelor's degree, heck, maybe
even a fancy Master's or MBA. So you'll be able to support yourself if need be.
Cause sometimes, the need be."
I listened to Momma every time her beautiful pink
lips released those words into the muggy Georgia air, strung together like her own personal mantra. I
wondered if someone had said "the need be" to her at one time in her life and the truth
was that she just hadn't taken that phrase to heart.
I tucked the thought into the
back of my mind and made my way forward, pushing through the sticks and stones
of elementary school, the pitfalls of middle school, and then the full-blown
landmines that seemed to go along with high school in a small southern town. Somehow, my incredible head
always got me past the obstacles that cropped up along the way. And when I was
16 (far too young, I can see now), with that unbelievable head of mine, I found
myself a scholarship and enrolled full-time in college.
My head and all the rest of me spent four years
getting a "good, proper, and useful" education, and by 20, I was to be a college
graduate, ready to embark on the world, eager to find my place and make
something of myself.
But as I look down at the mass of students gathered in the stadium, I'm worried. The sun glints off the metal seats
and I find myself moving my hand to shield my eyes so that I can attempt to hone
in on Momma and Papa among the multitude of families who fan themselves with
the commencement program. I glance to the right, where two fellow graduates
chirp and whistle to one another, their long highlighted hair spilling down
their slender backs, their feet encased in four-inch heels. The only part of them that looks like me is the gown they wear, silky and soft, it drapes over their
bodies in a way that I wish it would hang over mine.
Alas, the gown can't manage such behavior against my
overly warm and bloated body. The velvety smoothness of the cloth starts out in the correct
direction, lying over my heaving bosom in a wash of fabric, but then, it finds
the huge bump of my belly, the mountain that cannot be contained beneath my
graduation gown, the mound that is right now being pummeled from the inside by a tiny life I helped create.
I realize with a start that I have gotten the wrong
kind of "good, proper, and useful" education. And now, Lord Almighty, the need be.