“Mother, we want to sign-up for the Air Force.” Her twin sons stood in front of her and suddenly she felt the room start to spin. She had just come home from her shift at Union Station where she worked nights cleaning the floors and bathrooms. It was tough work, but in 1945 when she needed to put food on the table it was and still is honest work. Plus, the railroad promised her a pension. For a colored woman with three children and limited schooling it was great work. It gave her time to be with her children before they left for school in the morning. Now, with the room spinning, on this day in 1956, Florence realized her boys stood before her asking permission to become men. She heard them babble on about how being in the service would give them skills . . . . seeing the world . . . . but all she really heard was that they wanted to become men. Since her husband sent for them from Homer, Louisiana to Los Angeles, California it had been no easy road. And, their question right, now, brought back that same spinning feeling.
Florence had to sit down a moment. Howard and Hardy, looked at each other, not sure what to think. They had seen a look like that in their mother’s eyes before. Like the time they asked her if they could play football. They rehearsed for days on the merits of team spirit, discipline and learning to play fair as benefits to joining the Jefferson High football team. They rehearsed this next speech even longer because they again needed their mother’s signature to join this new team. Hardy exchanged a quick, nervous glance towards Howard. Through some sort of twin telepathy they decided it was best to keep quiet for a few.
Florence touched the rolled up papers her 17 year old sons left on the kitchen table for her. All her life was spent caring for these boys and their older sister Yvonne. It had always been the four of them. After their father left, Yvonne would spend days and weeks with her father’s mother Christelle. She even had a room at her grandparents house. When she was younger, Yvonne spent so much time with her grandmother she settled into thinking that was her home. Yvonne came home when she was about 10 and told her brothers “we have to start calling her MOTHER, not ma’dear. Ma’dear is too country.” Howard and Hardy were wrestling on the front lawn when Yvonne made the big announcement. Covered in grass from head to toe and out of breathe their 8 year old bodies replied in unison, “Huh?” “Yes, mother,” Yvonne replied. Slowly the new term of endearment stuck. Florence thought the monicker was a bit formal, but she accepted it.
She also realized that Yvonne was spending too much time with her grandmother and moved her back home to live fulltime with her brothers. They were all four, back together, again. Chris was so very heart broken. She thought she would get a chance to raise Yvonne. But Florence made it clear “that she is my child and God willing I will live to raise her.” Florence fought every day to keep the family together and now here it is 9 years later; Yvonne is out of the house with her new family and her boys want to go over seas to the US Air Force and learn skills. They were right, there was no money for college and now that they were out of high school they had to learn real skills so they could learn to take care of themselves. They wanted to become men. “We are grateful for everything you have done for us, Mother.” “Now, it’s time for us to go out into the world to do something for you.” They didn't look alike, or even sound alike, but Florence wasn't sure which twin said either sentence.
All sorts of thoughts were whirling in her head. “Where did the time go,” she thought to herself. She shifted her aching body a little to the left. Stooping over a mop for hours and cleaning was not easy work. But it was work and she was happy to have it. She would have an empty house for the first time, ever. Florence came from a family of 13 siblings. She never lived alone. In her mind's eye, Florence clung to her daughter and those boys with all her heart, but she knew it was all in God’s hands, now. Whether or not she signed, those boys were going to leave somewhere. “You really think this is the best choice for you?” “Yes ma’am, we do.”
She was looking at them now, and still Florence really wasn’t sure which of her twins was speaking. But the sound of love and caring these young men expressed pounded in her head like a drum. She asked her sons to give her a hug and promised “I will pray on it and give you an answer in the morning.” Slowly she maneuvered off the stool and trotted off to her room, unconsciously holding the small of her back to ease the ever present ache of a good days work. After getting ready for bed, she exhaustedly knelt at the side of her bed to say her prayers. Struggling to get up, she slid into bed. It felt so good to be off of her feet, she automatically let out a soft groan. As her head hit the pillow, tears gently cut a path to the mattress and she quietly cried herself to sleep that night.