Maya Angelou had two maternal figures during her young life, and they couldn’t have been more different.
In a new memoir titled Mom & Me & Mom, the 85-year-old poet, author, and activist recalls being raised with both her mother Vivian Baxter and her paternal grandmother, Annie Henderson.
Baker was from St. Louis, poor and rough around the edges. Henderson was from a tiny Arkansas town, a strict follower of southern etiquette.
Maya Angelou lived with her grandmother between the ages of 3 and 13, then returned to be with her mother again in California.
It was difficult when it came time to leave her grandmother, Maya Angelou said.
“It was terrible, because she (Annie) really loved me,” Angelou recalled to The Associated Press. “She never once kissed me the whole time in Stamps, that I can remember, but she loved me. She was so proud of me, and the fact that I was a mute and had my own problems, she never took the position that, ‘Oh, well you’ve been so injured.’ She’d say, ‘You’re gonna be a teacher. Sister you’re gonna teach all over this world.’ She taught me how to be a victor.”
Angelou said her relationship with her mother was not always easy, but Mom & Me & Mom tells her story of forgiveness.
“I began to like her,” Angelou said. “I liked the fact that she didn’t laugh at people. She had everything. You know, she was pretty, she was young, she had money. She had respect, and when she saw people who were poor, who were crippled or uncomfortable in their skin, she didn’t laugh at them, and I liked that in her. It was a big heart.”
Angelou also recalls her mother as being tough. Shortly after the two were reunited, they stayed at a newly integrated hotel in Fresno, California. After retreating to the safety of their rooms, Vivian showed Maya the.38 revolver she had been hiding in a bag.”If they were not ready for integration,” she explained, “I was ready to show it to them.”
Though Maya Angelou has written autobiographical pieces before — including I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings — Mom & Me & Mom now offers a fuller picture of her upbringing.