Oh, how Mom loved her basketball boys. They towered over her short, stocky frame as she dutifully inspected their student I.D. cards. She looked up to study their faces, sometimes more than two feet above her. At first, they assumed she was verifying identity, somewhat annoyed that anyone wouldn’t know them. They were stars, the big men on campus. Highly recruited and often in headlines, many came confident and cocky to the dining hall, feeling no obligation to take notice of the little, gray-haired woman at the door.
Some had to learn humility the hard way.
Mom laughed when she recalled how one student’s dose of humble pie came with Ambrosia Salad. It happened one dinnertime after she left her post at the entry turnstile to re-fill the salad bar – one of her many duties. That evening Ambrosia Salad was on the menu. She loved that sticky, sweet marshmallow concoction and was always tickled when she found students who liked it too.
As she surveyed the salad bar, she noticed the Ambrosia Salad was nearly gone. She knew Antwon would be disappointed. He was a basketball player and practice was making the whole team late for dinner.
In they came as a group, obviously tired and not very happy about a long practice. Several of them greeted her with their usual, “Hi, Mom!” or “Hey, Grandma.” But one freshman, Michael, protested to his teammates.
“Why do you call that old white woman ‘Mom?’ She ain’t your Momma. She ain’t your Grandma.”
He was intentionally speaking loud enough for her to hear. The other players tried to shush him. Mom recalled that at least one person told him, “Be careful. If coach hears you, you’ll be on the bench.” That made him all the more obstinate. He looked right at Mom and proclaimed, “You are not my mom.”
She would recall that many responses dashed through her mind, but all she said was, “No, I’m not.” She was a little hurt. She had been called “mom” so long she couldn’t remember how it started. But she always had extra grace to extend to athletes, so she thought it best to let it drop.
When Michael reached the salad bar, she heard his voice again, even louder. “Hey, lady! You’re out of that marshmallow stuff!”
The team silenced its chatter. They stared at Mom, who calmly walked into the kitchen. She heard Michael protesting her leaving and the others telling him to be quiet. In a few minutes, she calmly walked to their table, in her hand a bowl brimming with Ambrosia.
“Antwon, I believe you like this salad, so I saved some back for you. This is the last there is. You enjoy it.” She softly placed it on his tray and turned to face Michael. “That’s the last there is,” she repeated. “Guess you got the short end of the stick on that one.”
“And from that time on,” she used to giggle, “that Michael always said ‘please,’ and ‘thank you,’ and every once’t in awhile, he’d call me Mom.”
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