Brunch with Big Mama – 02.18.18
Today a group of friends and I decided to pop up on Big Mama for brunch. Her eldest daughter who runs the restaurant told us she would be around today. She had been fighting off a throat cancer for the past 6 months and was finally able to move around again. When she got wheeled in by one of the staff, she saw us sitting on the left side of the dining room and said, “I’m still here, I got too much work to do” as she rolled past. Not speaking literally of course, but symbolically of the work on this earth she had to do. She called for us to come down to her table and catch up.
“You know I had to fight this cancer before, breast cancer. But I’ve been feeling much better. So how are you doing?” Always caring about others. She knew that was my cousin on the news. She wanted to make sure I was alright. I told her, one day at a time. That’s all I could think of to say.
An hour later, two more friends came. We sat and talked to her about what was going on in the community. On 24th street and on 30th Street. Big Mama was excited about moving into the new Highlander place real soon. “I gotta figure out how to get some of my pictures up there. They said I could project them on to the wall somehow.” Pointing up to the wall where framed photos of her family cascaded from the ceiling to the floor if possible. It felt like my late Granny’s living room there. She used to have dozens of pictures up too, just everywhere.
Big Mama told us about memories she had too. How her daddy Basie was letting traveling musicians stay on her living room floor as a young girl ‘cause Omaha was a jazz circuit for recruiting musicians in the Midwest. She told us about how she was born in that house too because back then the hospital on 10th & Dorcas made the Black folks give birth in the basement. She talked some more about the folks in the black and white photos on the walls and the ones that made her laugh. Especially a story about how she told Mr. Warren (Tommy, she said) about the picture she had up of him with his siblings and he didn’t have a shirt on. So he asked her to put up the one with him in a suit. Probably the one he wore for Easter Sunday, I’m sure. She laughed at that and put that photo right next to the one he didn’t care for so much.
Big Mama was in her right mind and enjoying the conversation with all of us. I loved most seeing her light up when she said she had 28 great grandchildren. And she looks so alive….and young right now. She placed an order for herself and checked on guests halfway across the room without ever leaving her wheelchair. It was an honor just to see her staff answer her requests.
“Get that table over there some ice cream just for being so patient.” I remember the looks on those folks face tasting the sweet potato pie ice cream for the first time and sitting back to let the flavor marinate on their minds and their tongue. It was like watching a revelation. I had a similar revelation when they brought out an accidental extra slice of banana nut bread. It basically melted in my mouth and I wanted to have room in my tummy to finish it so badly. I decided to share it with the friend next to me instead. He enjoyed the same savory revelation. Only important things in life taste this good.
Somebody said she was taking pictures with her cell phone throughout the meal. We talked some more about movies, energy, ancestors coming thru in our dreams, and when Big Mama knew if when she was going to move into the new building on 30th street this year. It was gonna be a year worth living I could tell. Memories of food and all…
I wrote this piece just over a month ago. It is now Good Friday and today everyone got the heartbreaking news that Big Mama passed away. I started to remember the time she did a cooking lecture with the same group of friends at the Malcolm X Center back in 2016. Then there was the time a few months after that where the same group of friends honored her and a group of other elders for their wisdom, activism and overall contributions to the North Omaha Black Community. We love them for this. We love her for this. We have so many other great memories with her and I’m sure my friends will all have a story to share.
If you were ever touched by the giving spirit of Big Mama, feel free to share that love with the family. They will read every message and every letter. The family will accept memorials through a culinary art scholarship fund at Metro Community College. Simply detail your desired donation here and mention “Patricia “Big Mama” Barron Culinary Scholarship.” You could also make yourself a yummy batch of banana nut bread and simply share it with the neighbors just to see a smile on their face. Yeah, Big Mama would be proud of you for that.