Most everyone has a second mother in their life. Someone who is very much a part of your childhood years, someone who is the biological mother of a good friend who treats you like her own, etc – etc. Me? I had three mothers: my beautiful Queen Mother who gave me life and is my world, my Aunt “Dee” Delores, who unapologetically treated me like her own son, often at the frustration of her real son…
…and then there’s the Magnificent, Magical, Mrs. Mimoise Martelly, my mother’s best friend.
How they met and became so close was a mystery to me. Assumingly, it was through the connection between my older sister Denise and her classmate Yanik (Mrs. Martelly’s) 2nd daughter. All I know is that our family and the Martellys seemingly go back to a time without a point of origin. And that’s alright by me.
Mr. and Mrs. Martelly hailed from Haiti (which I mistook as a city in Jamaica as a child, only knowing the “Come Back To Jamaica” commercials and the famous Jamaican girl posing in the water with a bikini bearing the country of the same title). Both had very strong accents which fascinated me, particularly in the accented syllables of variant pitches. Mrs. Martelly’s accent was distinguishingly beautiful, which I deduced to be the combination of being a woman and always speaking with love and understanding. It always made me smile, her greeting me as if she was asking a question that sounded like “HAH-lo keNNY(?)”. I often imitated her, not in humor, but out of respect, trying to duplicate that comforting sound. Of course, that ended when I reached puberty and my voice changed.
As far as her relationship with my mother, you couldn’t find a friendship that close unless you were watching Willona and Florida Evans on “Good Times”. The only exception being that Mrs. Martelly was respectful enough to knock on our door and not just barge in like Willona did. Other than that, you would have sworn these two were sisters; often found shopping, cooking, handling business, sewing together or just sitting in the living room, talking about what was going on in the neighborhood.
Mrs. Martelly treated each of us like we were her offspring, often asking us about school, our health and even the people we hung around. She was always insistent that we “mind the friends we kept”. She only lived two blocks over and often saw us playing basketball, football or baseball as she passed the park diagonal from our house. We didn’t have to worry about her telling our parents on us if we behaved inappropriately; she would talk to us directly. I never minded that, in fact, I appreciated her for it because it was a constant reminder that she cared – that she loved us. She gave respect and in return, she was given respect, by everyone in the neighborhood.
When it came to school, she took equal interest in our performance, both academically and socially. She would often ask me how my grades were and somehow, through her smiling gaze, I was unable to lie to her. That’s why I called her magical. I once jokingly (and respectfully) asked her if her ability to extract the truth was Haitian voodoo and she quickly countered, “No, there’s no voodoo, I just know what YOU do. So you can’t lie.” I always loved her quick wit. For her to be such a serious, dignified woman, she was ready for you anytime, any place.
Speaking of dignified, she had a walk of elegance and grace I always considered to be that of royalty. She never seemed to step, but would mysteriously glide as she strode along the street. Her posture and position was indicative of her nature; proud, self-aware, purposed. It’s amazing how her face always seemed to be held high without looking down her nose at anyone. She knew who she was, where she came from and where she was going.
If she believed in you, she supported you. Being a master seamstress, Mrs. Martelly made two outfits for me that I treasure to this day and wish I had a photograph to share: The first was a super-sized pair of pants and top, made for myself and younger brother Terry for the talent show. Each of us put both legs in a single pant leg, then fit side-by-side in a large top with only two sleeves, through which each inserted the outer arm. The top had two holes for the heads, giving us the illusion of a two-headed man as we sang, of all things, “Side By Side” on stage.
The second outfit was incredible. Mrs. Martelly knew how much I loved performing. One day, she was in our living room asking me about what I was getting into and I told her I was putting together material for my final exam speech in Speech class. She knew I was over the top with every presentation and wanted to do something unforgettable for the big presentation.
I told her that my speech was about comedy and I had asked for the entire class period (55 minutes) to deliver what was supposed to be just a 15-20 minute speech. Nobody in the class objected because I had been putting on a show with every presentation. I had decided to use the first and last 10 minutes delivering a stand-up comedy routine, interrupted only by the actual presentation. Mrs. Martelly and I agreed that a Jester costume would be the perfect look. I can’t begin to describe the riotous laughter and cheers I received when I walked into class and directly to the podium in my alternately-patterned black and white full jester costume, with similarly colored tights and shoes (bells attached) and crown, jingling as well. I’ll never forget the standing ovation I received before even beginning my presentation. I couldn’t wait to get home and thank Mrs. Martelly for her hard work and mind-blowing product.
After getting home, I ran straight to her house and excitedly hugged and kissed her, screaming about how well it went. I remember leaving and walking home wondering how I was going to break the news to her daughters that I now wanted to marry their mother, in addition to them. You see, they all carried the same radiant glow that she possessed, even to this day.
She was with us at our family reunion, as her daughter Yanik performed a dance routine with my sister Denise to Michael Jackson’s “PYT”. She sat smiling with pride as I performed a jazz rendition of “Moon River” with my siblings and cousin. She was such an important addition to our family that we proudly introduced her as family to our distant relatives that night.
She was always a part of our big family feasts and events and openly welcomed us to hers. She and my mother included each other in the most casual of activities. I still vividly remember her clapping and laughing as we danced in the Soul Train Line on many a Saturday afternoon (for more on that, click here for “The Jukebox Room”).
When my father worked nights and was unable to attend my concerts, I knew I still had two parents present, momma and Mrs. Martelly.
…and the day I graduated, she was right there in our living room, giving me a hug and telling me how proud she was of me, as she did each of my brothers and sisters. It was only appropriate that when I brought my then-girlfriend home from college to meet my family, I presented her to Mrs. Martelly as well. She lovingly pulled me aside and said, “I like her. You have my blessings.” We laughed and hugged, but I knew that she meant it, because she did. I’m sure you know that when I brought home my firstborn, she was as happy as everyone else to meet him.
Mrs. Martelly was recently called home to glory, leaving this world to be by her husband’s side, a position she faithfully and lovingly maintained for as long as I knew him. I’m sure she’s stopping in to visit my father up there, in-between his Cubs and Bears games as they prepare a place for my mother someday, but hopefully not too soon.
In the grand scheme of things, I know her time here was only for a fleeting moment, but thankfully, her love and protection will last a millennium. You see, as far as women go, she was everything you could ask for in a mother, mentor and a friend.
My tears at the announcement of her passing were many, but they were golden. Not a product of the Midas Touch but rather the Mimoise Magic. It’s because of that magic that my sorrow is replaced by the joy in the memory of her. I thought I’d make it through typing this without any tears, but they’re flowing now. Still, I’m smiling.
Speaking of smiles, I will miss that beautiful smile of hers and the heartwarming way that she said my name. I’m going to miss a great deal about her.
Just like her natural children, I love her. I will always love her…
…as much as she did me.
Yeah, Mrs. Martelly – you were just passing through this world, headed to a greater existence. Leaving a never-ending legacy of love…
…and a trail of magnificent magic!