She was my first friend; a source of unconditional love, encouragement and support. On September 11 my mother, Mattie Fields, made her transition and though heartbroken I am joyous in remembering the life she led.
My mother was part of the Great Migration to the North, the departure of millions of Blacks from the oppression of southern segregation. After traveling from her birthplace of Snow Hill North Carolina to New Jersey, she met my father, a Virginia transplant and Army veteran, and the two were wed in 1948. To this union came six children. I was the fifth and the first boy, followed later by my brother.
The resiliency and determination she exhibited was a product of her own mother, my grandmother Dora, who we knew as ‘Momma Dora.’ My mother was a child of the south and was deeply rooted in the Christian church. Her strength was evident during childhood, having witnessed her own grandmother collapse from a heart attack and die in a tobacco field. Black children of my mother’s generation endured hardships and bore witness to horrors that are unfathomable. If America truly has a ‘Greatest Generation’ it is the Black children of the Jim Crow south.
My mother was a constant presence in my life and her living was a powerful testimony. When my father became ill when I was a boy she shielded me from the true nature of his condition. I learned what faith was by watching her by his bedside, every night, often falling asleep in a chair but waking up to make certain her children were prepared for school. Her resiliency was on display when she gathered her children in our living room before school, informed us that our father was going home to be with the Lord that day, and circled us as we held hands as she led us in prayer. From that point on, I never needed to hear another sermon. I saw one in my mother.
Just a year after my father’s death, doctors would discover a tumor in my head. I will never forget the look on my mother’s face when the doctor walked into the examination room with X-rays in hand and informed us of his finding. The night before my operation as only the two of us were in the room, I confessed to being frightened and asked her if I was going to die. My mother could have answered in a way that belied the seriousness of the operation, as they would not be able to determine if the tumor was malignant until it was removed. Instead, she simply said, “Walter Jr. no one knows God’s plan but if you pray I think you are going to be fine.” It was that night that the power of prayer became real in my life.
A couple of years later my mother would share with me a dream she had during my father’s illness. She envisioned herself in our church’s choir loft sitting next to her best friend, Juanita Toon or ‘Ma Toon’ as the Fields children knew her. She said she saw a figure with a white bandage wrapped around his head, approaching the altar. In the dream Ma Toon turned to her and said, “See Mattie, I told you Walter was going to be alright.” My mother thought the dream was about my father but after he died the image perplexed her. It was when she saw me after my operation with my head bandaged that she realized the figure in her dream was me. She always reminded me that despite the tragedy that had befell my family, God was still in the miracle business and my life was a prime example of his grace and mercy.
So, it was bittersweet on the evening of September 10 when I paid my mother a final visit in the hospital. With just the two of us in the room, I held her hand and let her know I was there. Though she was struggling to breathe and semi-aware, she knew I was there. At one point she lifted herself up and as I took off her oxygen mask, she looked at me and said “I’m ready.” I knew she was and I told her to just get some rest. Though tearful I prayed and asked God for the strength to not be selfish and to ease my mother’s pain, and that I was prepared to let her go. Upon departing, I kissed her cheek and walked out of the hospital in tears and deflated. Until…..
Upon glancing at the moonlit sky I was reminded of God’s goodness in giving her 87 years and the fact that He kept our family intact 43 years after my father’s death. I wiped away the tears and thanked God for the blessing of my mother, knowing that the morning would bring her sunset.
I know the days ahead will be challenging as I absorb her absence. Yet, she taught me that there are tough days but no bad days and every day is a blessed day. It is in that spirit that I will remember her Tuesday as we celebrate her life, and it is in that spirit that I will find joy in her transition.She has honored me in her passing by choosing the dress she wore for my wedding as the dress for her burial. I have been truly blessed as the son of Mattie Fields and for that I am eternally grateful.
Walter Fields is Executive Editor of NorthStarNews.com and blessed to have been the son of the late Mattie Fields.
The Homegoing Celebration for Mattie Fields (‘Miss Mattie’) will commence with a wake on Monday September 15, 6 pm – 9 pm, followed by a Celebration of Life on Tuesday September 16 at 11 am. Both services will be held at Varick Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church in Hackensack New Jersey at 120 Atlantic Street. Rev. Dr. Melanie Miller will officiate. Interment will follow at Hackensack Cemetery 289 Hackensack Avenue Hackensack. The family will greet friends following the conclusion of services at Varick Church. Earl I. Jones Funeral Home Inc. of Hackensack will be handling the arrangements.