Weekly Dig Column #10: Me, My Mom and Iowa


(this is my 10th column for the Dig and I'm damn proud of it. You can see the original article on their site with cool artwork, etc).

I have been to Iowa three times in the past two years. That is strange behavior for any black man who is not named Barack Obama. These trips have got me thinking, not about Election Day, but about Mother's Day and why Iowa figures so prominently in several defining moments in my relationship with my own mother.

My first visit to Iowa was in April 2005. I was driving west on a road trip with my mom and sister, as Ma fulfilled her lifelong dream of moving to Washington state.

After several nomadic years in Massachusetts, each of which placed her closer to me -- Pittsfield, Attleboro, Fall River -- and with her only son deemed fully "raised," my mom decided it was time to go. With the full Thurston family in convoy formation, we spent the ride talking pets and politics. We made our most memorable stop in Waukee, Iowa. This was not intentional.

We had been aiming for Des Moines but managed to miss it even though the map said we drove right through it. Suggestion to Des Moines: Put up some buildings. On the other side of the "city," my mom spotted a sign for "LT's Organic Farm and Restaurant." We could not resist. This was, after all, the woman who introduced rice cakes, sprouted bread and homemade tofu into her children's diet. We stopped at LT's for the best meal I've ever had in the US outside of my family's cooking.

Take that, Taco Bell.

The second visit to Iowa was in November 2005. I was driving east on a road trip alone, transporting my mom's belongings after her passing.

In the summer of 2001, she had been diagnosed with colon cancer and underwent surgery. Years later, living in Portland, OR, on the coast of her dreams, the cancer came back with a swift vengeance. There was very little time. We saw many doctors and even flew her to Dana-Farber, but it was not enough. There were moments of joy, however. She answered the "Do you know who the president is?" question with "I'd rather not say."

On that solemn drive in November of 2005, I stopped at LT's again and gave them one of the many blankets my mom had crocheted. Of course they remembered her.

The third and most recent visit to Iowa was three weeks ago, on the second anniversary of that initial westward journey. I was speaking and performing at Iowa State's First Amendment Day, when I stumbled across the Iowa African-American Hall of Fame. The "hall of fame," I'm sure, was just an annual listing of every black person to ever live in Iowa. I’m surprised that they needed last names. They could have said simply "1996: Steve, Bill, Janice. 1997: James, Eddie, That Guy at the Conoco. 1998: Steve again."

I would like to add a name. "2005: Arnita." Although my mother was only there for a day, Iowa was lucky to have her, even for that moment. To the woman who raised two college-graduating kids alone in DC, who enjoyed telling a story as much as hearing one and who taught me the guiding lesson of my life, "Always question authority," I say: Happy Mother's Day, Ma.

BARATUNDE THURSTON IS THE PROUD SON OF ARNITA. HE MAINTAINS A MEMORIAL WEBSITE AT DAMBUDZO.COM.

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