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My best asset: A mother who gave reason to hope

John Fountain's mother Gwendolyn Marie Hagler Clincy

John Fountain's mother Gwendolyn Marie Hagler Clincy

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Updated: June 11, 2012 10:14AM

This week’s column is an excerpt from my memoir, True Vine: A Young Black Man’s Journey of Faith, Hope and Clarity and a tribute to my mother, Gwendolyn Marie Hagler Clincy.

I took one last look around the apartment, moving slowly from room to room, taking in deep breaths and quietly reflecting. Then we walked downstairs, climbed into our car, and drove about 100 yards away to Mama’s house. I needed to say goodbye to Mama alone.

“Y’all all packed up and ready to go?” Mama asked, greeting me at the door of her apartment.

“Yep, we’re loaded,” I said, smiling.

“John, I’m just glad you are going back to school,” Mama said, beaming and bubbling over. “I knew you could. I always knew you could. John, you can do anything you put your mind to. I’m just so happy for you.”

“Thanks, Ma,” I said, my words choked with emotion. There was something else I needed to tell her. My voice cracked.

“Ma, uh, I, uh . . . I just want to thank you, too, Ma, for, uh, for believing in me and for being there when I needed you. I know that when you first mentioned the idea of me going back to Champaign (University of Illinois), I got so angry and said some things that I shouldn’t have,” I said, sitting in my usual crying spot on the living room heater.

“That’s OK, John, I understand.”

“Nah, Ma, I’m sorry. I just couldn’t see it. I just couldn’t see how I could go back.”

“I know,” she comforted. “That’s what mothers are for. I’ve always wanted what was best for you. I know that I may not have always done what was best, but it was the best I knew how to do. All any parent can ever do is their best.”

“You done all right, Ma,” I said.

Mama was fighting back tears.


“Well, they’re waiting for me downstairs, I better get going,” I said finally.

Mama followed me out into the hall, where we hugged good-bye, a rush of sadness sweeping over me.

“Ma, I’m gonna make y’all proud,” I said.

“John,” Mama said, “you already have. You already have.”

I dried my eyes and then walked downstairs. Mama didn’t follow. She walked back inside. I suspect that she watched from the window …

As we rounded the corner of Komensky Avenue and drove north on Pulaski Road, down to Roosevelt Road, past True Vine (church) bound for miles of highway, I had a feeling that the road, no matter how uncertain, led to a bright future and that the worst was behind. But this one thing I was sure of: It was the Lord who had brought us out.

Even now, 28 years later, what remains as clear is that my greatest asset was never my smarts, my tenacity, or even my faith as I sought a way up from our poverty in North Lawndale.

It was my mother.

A mother who, even when my biological father deserted us, never abandoned ship. A mother who, even amid hopelessness, always gave me reasons to hope. A mother who, even amid lack, always provided substance and sustenance by selfless sacrifice.

A mother who sometimes still apologizes for not having had more money, more resources, more to give — a matter I’d like to clear up once and for all.

Dear Mama, you gave me life and love. In my darkest days, it was your love that lifted me.

You alone were enough.

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