At 84 years old, Maya Angelou is still a force to be reckoned with. The poet laureate, author and activist is releasing her seventh autobiographical memoir Mom & Me & Mom. As you might assume, it will chronicle the relationship she developed with her mother Vivian Baxter over the years.
If you’ve read I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, you know that Maya originally grew up with her grandmother, who she called Mama. She wouldn’t live with her biological mother, who she called “Lady,” until later. Mom & Me & Mom explores how the initial absence of her mother impacted her as a child and then as a grown woman.
Though their relationship was not like the traditional mother and daughter Maya explained to NPR how they were able to reconnect and why she called her “Lady.”
“Well, she didn’t look like a mother to me. She didn’t remind me of my grandmother, who we called Mama. She wore lipstick. And she had record players and she played music, loudly and danced, in the middle of the dining room floor. She said after a few weeks, ‘You’re going to have to address me,’ and she asked, ‘What would you like to call me?’ I said, ‘I’d like to call you Lady, because you’re very beautiful and you sound like a lady.’ She said, ‘All right, I’ll be Lady, so everyone must address me as Lady from now on.’ So all sorts of people know her only as Lady.
“But after a few years she won me. She won me over because she was kind. And then she was also funny. So I liked all that. And she just won me over. And then I heard myself calling her Mother, and before I knew it I was calling her Mom.”
Then in another instance she recalls the time her mother attempted to discipline her when she came in the house after her curfew.
“She hit me. She had a handful of keys about 20 keys on a chain, and I came through the door, before I could say anything she hit me with her fist. My stepfather came down from upstairs to see what was happening — she was still cursing like a drunk seaman. And then my brother came down and said, ‘We’re leaving here.’ And then my mother asked, ‘Where the hmmmmm do you think you’re going?’ He said, ‘We’re leaving this house. No one beats up my baby sister.’ And she said, ‘Please come in the kitchen. Let me speak to you. Please come. Please come.’
“She took a cloth off the rack and put it down on the floor, then she knelt on the cloth and she prayed to God to forgive her. And then she prayed to me. And she cried so piteously, she said, ‘I, I, I just had come down the steps had gone to your room and you weren’t in, and it’s 2:30 or 3 o’clock in the morning, and I thought of what that man did to you in St. Louis, when you were a little girl, 7 years old, and I thought maybe someone was taking advantage of you, and I was about crazy. And then I came down the steps and just then you pushed open the door, with a big smile on your face,’ and she said, ‘I hit you before I thought of it. Please forgive me.’ I forgave her immediately.”