Thanking Toots

Me, my son Chioke and mother Mary Templeton
This is the first time in my life I’ve ever called my mother, Mary Elizabeth McLelland Templeton, by her nickname. But when I think about the love that her friends and our family members show in their faces when they say Toots, I’d like to get on that bandwagon.
I can’t say thank you enough for the incredible sacrifice and devotion she shared among myself and my brothers and sisters.
Nothing means more to me than her approval.
Didn’t fully grasp that until two years ago, when she took the major step of flying to California for the first time to see the reading of my play, Queen Calafia: Ruler of California, in Los Angeles at the William Grant Still Arts Center. Afterward, she rode up the state with my brother Max and I to spend a week in San Francisco
While we were visiting some of my hangouts like my church and some of the museums where I’ve exhibited, she paused to say, “You’re doing good work.”
I almost broke out in tears.
She set a high bar of excellence and service for us. She was the first valedictorian at Unity High School in Iredell County, N.C. in the 1940s. I understand she was such a gifted singer that many thought she had a career ahead in theatre.
A lot of those dreams took a back seat while raising the five of us in the segregated South of the 1950s and 1960s. However, we got the benefit as young students of going to classes with teachers who had taught our parents, who started out with high expectations of us.
Mom basically threw herself into being a professional mother, if there is such a term. We had the structure of dinner at the same time every day, a steady routine of church, school and activities and a literature rich environment.
When she and my dad invested in our set of World Book Encyclopedia, I set about reading them from cover to cover.
There are moments when I felt she was overprotective. To hear her tell it, she was trying to force me out of the house to stop reading. The truth is somewhere in between.
What is unmistakable is how she modeled right and wrong. I don’t remember a lot of preaching from her, except for the occasional quote from her favorite Shakespearean character, Othello.
Her moral force is something that anyone can sense, a respect I’ve witnessed from everyone who’s met her.
I am proud to be my mother’s son. Thanks Toots.

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