My mother, Eckie, was born in 1909, fourth child of Morris and Mamie McCants. She was a lucky child, born with light skin and straight hair, two distinct advantages in Mobile, Ala.

Eckie graduated from high school in 1927, and somewhere I’ve got her diploma to prove it. It’s huge, like Janice’s mother’s diploma from the Chillicothe Business College. A diploma in those days was a big deal socially and physically, swirly and impressive.

I was a mama’s boy. I denied it strenuously, especially to myself. There was nothing to be gained by admitting to being doted upon. It was decidedly unmanly, and a lot of what looked like being showered with attention was harassment and criticism, and I was emotionally retarded. It seems like I should be wise by now, but actually I’m barely grown up.

I knew that people thought things about my mother that they didn’t express. “Oh, Eckie,” an old friend would say resignedly to one of her judgments. When I went back to the old neighborhood to tell some of the old timers that she had died, Rose Jones almost told me the truth, then thought better of it and let that sleeping dog lie. There’s nobody else now who would know what she was like to another adult.

My made-up story that fits the facts as I see them is that Eckie Ursula Porter, born Eckie May McCants and still called Eckie May by a few people in spite of Eckie Ursula’s disapproval, was pretty hot stuff way back in the day. I’ve seen a picture of her with her brother and a couple of other young guys, and another where she’s perched on the front fender of a swoopy 1930-ish coupé that suggests she was enjoying her beauty, and she had plenty to enjoy. The straight-laced-mother role she came to adopt was only a role. The strain must have been mighty.

I loved my mother and hardly ever wanted to be around her. Just after I met Janice, I took her to Chicago to meet my family and friends. We dropped our things at the friend’s house where we were staying and drove over to my mother’s. As we walked up the front steps, my aunt, who lived upstairs, opened her door, and we said hello as I rang my mother’s bell.

My mother came to her door livid because Janice and I had seen my aunt first and not her. We went inside her apartment, and within minutes Janice was in tears over the way my mother and I didn’t get along. Two years later, my mother came to live with us.