By Dennis Edwards
New Journal and Guide
They were Black as a Raven in flight on a sunny, clear day, just like her hair. With a clarity that could rattle and fascinate in the same moment. Ellen Lorraine’s eyes were like scalpels in the hands of a highly skilled surgeon. My mother used them with incisive precision to live fully in every moment, to see and signal her approval and disapproval of events, people and scenarios.
From across a room they were unseen messengers telegraphing her thoughts and wishes. In a crowd they were mediums of serious and sometimes playful missives intimately connecting us in mischief, mayhem and always obedience.
They could communicate judgement, anger, laughter, incredulity and sheer amazement without one word passing from her lips. I suspect they were the culprits, the cause of my father falling deeply in love. He really didn’t have a chance. At first glance it was probably over. No wonder, a look from her seemed to deconstruct my motives and expose what I thought were well kept secrets. Imagine what happened to him. The truth is I often thought her eyes possessed some sort of ex-rayish power. They always picked up on plans I thought clever, innocent yet potentially life changing schemes deeply concealed in what I thought to be a special kind of secrecy.
Once while in college I decided to go and visit my girl friend who was in school out of state. You see, I was pretty much in love my freshman year. Almost flunked out because of it. So in order to satisfy cupid’s incessant demands I figured a visit would secure my place in her life. First there was a need for resources, so I came home the week before to accumulate a stash. A trip home was always good for a little kindness placed firmly in the hand by those wanting to encourage. But this time I was in rare form. Gathering on the order of a bill collector on steroids.
Gradually, Mama got quiet. She stopped talking and with those eyes she started intensely searching my every move. It was never a good sign when Lorraine stopped talking. Silence meant deep thought with her and she was thinking about what mischief I was about to get into.
In the 60’s and 70’s the very worst thing a guy could do, by accident or design, was to get a young lady pregnant out of what folk used to call wedlock. To have to bring a baby home. In one respect, doing marijuana was looked on with less disdain.
Apparently my mother’s eyes peeped me out, so to speak. So she busted a typical motherly move and said absolutely nothing to me. Not one single word. I did my thing, bought a bus ticket and it was off to the blessed rendezvous. When I got there my girl friend and I hung out, had dinner, went to the hotel room and absolutely NOTHING happened. “Ain’t that a blip”!
I went back to Richmond sad, dejected and totally confused. What could have gone wrong?
Well a few months later I found out Lorraine kind of headed me off at the pass. Seems after my trip home, she figured out my plan. So she called my girlfriend’s mother, told her that unless she wanted an “unscheduled grand child” she should shut this down on her end.
Bold, intrusive wasn’t it? A stone cold maternal gangster move. Now, in order to appreciate this kind of aggressive behavior there’s a need to understand Lorraine’s philosophy about raising boys. Since teenage girls are usually well ahead of boys the same age, she figured we needed more protection from the ways of the world and ourselves. She knew women and the personal politics of entrapment on both sides of the divide. So she was determined not to let that happen to her sons.
With those piercing eyes, she spotted and warned of potential danger, glanced us around obstacles we never imagined, stared us clear of aimlessness and gazed us into college and grad school. Along the way and without entirely betraying her gender, she even taught us as much as possible about the ways of the fairer sex.
She did it all with those deep, dark, wonderful eyes. Lord, I do miss them. Seems they were gone just about the time I began to understand them. My personal irony rests in how it’s taken all these years to fully appreciate being seen that way.
Dennis Edwards is an Emmy Award winning Television Investigative Journalist. He is a graduate of Suffolk High School, Virginia Union University and it’s Samuel Proctor School of Theology. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.