Momma related times without end, and without any show of emotion, how Uncle Willie had been dropped when he was three years old by a woman who was minding him. She seemed to hold no rancor against the babysitter, nor for her just God who allowed the accident.
Early in the book, Maya shares the story of how Uncle Willie became crippled, which helps establish Momma’s identity as a compassionate, religious woman. This incident had a profound change on mother and son. The accident upends the normal child-parent relationship, a mishap that renders Uncle Willie unable to create a separate life. Momma feels no bitterness, however, adjusting her expectations to accommodate the new reality, just as when she took in Maya and Bailey.
Whatever the contest had been out front, I knew Momma had won.
Maya explains that after several “powhitetrash” girls mock and belittle Momma, Momma stands her ground. She never reacts to the girls’ taunts and antics—including one girl who exposes herself—instead humming a hymn, emphasizing that she finds strength in God and her faith. Momma also finds power in her own dignity, maintaining the ability to remain calm and polite. Because the girls fail to provoke her, Momma has bested them.
People spoke of Momma as a good-looking woman and some, who remembered her youth, said she used to be right pretty. I saw only her power and strength. She was taller than any woman in my personal world, and her hands were so large they could span my head from ear to ear. Her voice was soft only because she chose to keep it so.
Here, Maya presents her image of Momma as a protector. While Maya claims that Momma’s power derives from her physical attributes, the reader understands that Momma’s power stems from her inner strength and capabilities. Momma, a self-made woman, single-handedly built up her store into the center of black life in Stamps. Momma chooses to keep her voice low because she gets what she needs without raising her voice.
Momma, who I knew for the first time was so good and righteous she could command the fretful spirits, as Jesus had commanded the sea. “Peace, be still.”
After Mr. Taylor shares his story of the baby apparition, Momma dispels Maya’s fears of malevolent spirits by casting the vision in practical terms—Mrs. Taylor wants her husband to work with children. Momma’s bravery sustains Maya and makes her feel safe. Not only does Momma have the power to protect her family and friends from evil spirits, Maya knows that Momma will protect Maya from any living people who seek to harm her.
He said, ‘Annie, I done tole you. I ain’t gonna mess around in no niggah’s mouth.’ I said, ‘Somebody’s got to do it then,’ and he said, ‘Take her to Texarkana to the colored dentist’ and that’s when I said, ‘If you paid me my money I could afford to take her.’ He said, ‘It’s all been paid.’ I tole him everything but the interest had been paid. He said ‘’Twasn’t no interest.’ I said, ‘’Tis now. I’ll take ten dollars as payment in full.’
After the white dentist refuses to treat Maya, Momma pressures him into giving her enough money so they can visit the black dentist. With this visit, Momma completely disregards community norms. Only Momma would dare demand care from the white dentist and barge into his office. The sheer force of her personality causes Dr. Lincoln, despite his racist beliefs and language, to bend to her demands.
Since I was enchanted with the creation of my own world, years had to pass before I reflected on Momma’s remarkable adjustment to that foreign life. An old Southern Negro woman who had lived her life under the left breast of her community learned to deal with white landlords, Mexican neighbors, and Negro strangers.
Momma lives with Maya and Bailey in California for several months, and only later does Maya reflect on the remarkable adaptability she demonstrated in making this adjustment. Momma has spent her entire life in the close-knit black community of Stamps. In Los Angeles, Momma, who has never even been separated from her son, learns how to navigate a wholly new world made up of people of different races and from different backgrounds.