Deanna, however, was uniquely prepared to deal with multiple, distinct individuals. As the second eldest of my grandmother's 7 children, she got to practice mothering early on, caring for her brothers and sisters while her parents worked. If you look at the relationships that she has with her younger siblings today, you notice that for the most part they see her as a type of mother figure, as well as a close friend and confidant; the highest compliment they can pay her. All significant family events are filtered through my mother to be passed on to everyone else. It helps that my mother is usually the easiest person to find, as she is the one who stays in one place for the longest amount of time. Her stability is the rock that the entire family tends to lean on in times of crisis.
Deanna took her learned stability, quick wit (Back then it was just called a smart ass mouth. To an often hilarious effect.) and amenable personality to a marriage with a music loving man named Milton in 1970, and in the early 90's, into a long term relationship with an engineer named Don. Both of their families liked her right away, and still do to this day. Deanna's ability to get along with anyone that is willing to be got along with, and tolerate the most annoying people with grace, even as they are working her last nerve, cannot be faked, and I've rarely seen it duplicated. It's an amazing thing to watch if you've seen it in action. Although her four girls would test that ability as often as they could for the next 40 + years.
To be one of Deanna's girls was to understand that when Deanna said something she meant business. Debate was only tolerated when it was a matter of little actual consequence. We were expected to conduct ourselves with class and decorum in public, and remain ladylike to the extent possible. My mother assured Djenaba and I, the two tomboys out of the crew, that being ladylike was possible even in the jeans and slacks we tended to prefer. My mother knew we were going to enter into a world that took a very dim view of African American women, and she was determined that we would never conform to popular stereotypes. She taught us about cute, but at least somewhat conservative clothing (trendy pieces were added here and there so long as they weren't garish or too revealing), and having wardrobe staples that you could keep wearing. She taught us that when using makeup, less really is more, and that if you take good enough care of your skin, you will wear less makeup anyway. We were not allowed to use slang words in the house, and swearing was absolutely discouraged. To her, these were the signs that told the world that you were too ignorant to think of anything else to say, and she didn't want us to have to deal with that stigma. And no matter what size you were, or what you decided to wear, be it casual or fancy, there is no excuse not to walk out of your house looking "rough": her term for looking disheveled or unkempt. It takes very little time or effort to make yourself presentable, and basic maintenance meaning a shower, clean face, teeth and clothes, and a quick neat ponytail was always a necessity for going anywhere with her.
Deanna's girls were also taught from an early age to take care of their homes. My older sister and I were helping to clean the house from as early as I can remember. By the time we were in our teens we had full charge of the housekeeping routines, as well as trading off cooking dinner for the family. We learned about paying bills from watching and listening to our mother make her paycheck work to cover the lives of five people. When my father had good sales numbers (my father was always in some sort of sales, which lent itself to some pretty funny stories, but I digress), there was more, but my mother's job, which she held for 16 years, was the constant.
And to my mind, this was the most important thing. Constancy. Stability. Reliability. The ability to handle your business affairs no matter what was going on around you. Lost jobs, unemployment, divorce, earthquakes, teenage rebellion. To be the person you need to be for the people that depend on you. To keep some inner reserves of strength, in order to be prepared for whatever life throws at you. To remain intellectually curious, and not be afraid to ask questions, because if you don't ask, how will you ever find out. To keep a sense of humor, because sometimes life gets so absurd that all you can do is laugh at it.
Obviously, life was not all perfection and sweetness and light. There were arguments, long silences, head scratching moments and times we just needed to get out of each other's faces for awhile. It happens in every family. We got through it, we still go through it today and we all learn from it. Much as were supposed to. And I think Deanna's girls benefited from her influence tremendously. Much to her credit.