Mary Mittie (Temple) Rhodes was a Southern Girl – born during Taurus season of May 1938 in Galveston Island, Texas. She was the last child of eight birthed to John and Zola who owned and operated Temple's Café for nearly 10 years.
She graduated from Central High in 1956 and moved to Chicago in 1961 where she worked several places including the Women's Club Publishing House and the Industrial Relations Center at the University of Chicago. She graduated from Governor's State University with a BA in Education in 1975, which kickstarted her career with the Chicago Public Schools. She worked at Countee Cullen Elementary, WEB DuBois Elementary, and Beethoven Elementary as a 7th grade Social Studies teacher respectively. After 18 years, she left the classroom in 1993 and retired from the Board of Education, Region 4 Office in 2002.
Throughout this time, she was host to dozens of children from the various neighborhoods she lived and worked, often opening her home for one night to several years. She served as an othermother for over three generations of Blackgirls; her late husband Willam Rhodes (d. 1997) often referred to her as Mother Theresa, barely keeping track of who was in out and of the home. She is birth mother to Preston, Aaron, and Billye; aunt/godmother/othermother to Sharon, Thyra, Lucy, Denise, and Da'Ché to name a few. She is "Nana" to Christopher (d. 1985) and Tribe.
Never leaving "social studies" to the books, she loved traveling – especially on the highway. We were an hour outside Chicago in to a 12-hour trip to North Carolina (for me to begin graduate school,) when cousin Eric called to tell us that Mrs. Temple (her mother/my grandmother) passed. We swung back around to repack her suitcase and then headed right back to NC, before she caught a flight to Texas. She insisted upon driving the whole way; even at 69, driving was still her therapy and has always been her passport. She's explored this country from coast to coast, as well as Canada, Bahamas, and Ethiopia. In addition to traveling, she was an avid reader and self-proclaimed champion of both Sudoku and Scrabble.
She Gathered Folx!
Long before I arrived, Mama was known to open her house to family and cook way more than the number of people who came by. She prided herself on her special season blend and recipes (none of which are written down) and loves telling the story of a co-worker who brought her husband by during one of her get togethers. Mama offered him some of her baked beans and the wife quickly told her, "naw honey, he don't like beans." However, before the wife was finished making her declaration, her husband was licking the bowl! Sure, it may be an exaggeration, but if you've ever had some of her ribs, fried chicken, pork chops, dressing, or sweet potatoes, you'd know that story was close to true. As an aside, I remember when I started getting bus service in eighth grade. The bus driver's pick up spot was four blocks away since we lived all the way at the "end" of Jeffery Manor. There was really no way we were consistently going to make that pickup at 7:00am. Mama convinced the driver to pick me up from our front door one morning. The driver had to get me about 10 minutes earlier which made me her very first stop. So mama sent me out with my breakfast – a butter toasted sandwich with fried egg and two thick slices of bacon smashed between strawberry preserves and a ton of napkins. She made one for the driver as well. That woman picked me up ten minutes early every morning for the rest of the year and we always enjoyed our breakfast. More than cooking, it was always Mama's thoughtfulness.
A Consummate Artist
Mama was an artist. She loved singing. Many of my early mornings and late nights, reluctant to go to school or clean the house, were filled with Roberta Flack and Dinah Washington melodies. And Preston says Mama could sing Aretha under a table! So much so, that I definitely thought Mama had her own album. She never recorded professionally but she's offered her voice to church choirs for sure (namely Salem Baptist Church of Chicago, where she claimed membership since 1998.) Post retirement, she taught calligraphy writing courses and continued to work on her penmanship and Seurat-like drawings with ball point pens and pencils, as her arthritis allowed! More than anything she poured her personality into her attire and onto her still-thick afro. I occasionally"borrowed" jewelry from her many, many, many drawers and she'd have a fit if I tried to make her leave the house without blush and earrings – even if she wasn't getting out of the car! When I picked her up so we could interview her potential new retirement home, she insisted on putting on her fur coat (with her pilot's cap and comfortable sneakers.) "Why Mama?" I asked exhausted. She simply stated, "they need to know."
And I have Mama’s music, calligraphy, recipes, pictures, journals, home videos she recorded in the 80s and 90s, even her teaching chair from Beethoven. Her Sun is my Moon. I will play Roberta Flack records, set out a shot of Christian Brothers brandy, write poetry, teach Tribe Scrabble and tell our stories. I will sing and cry and dance and cook with her as much as I want. After 83 FULL rotations, Mama’s flesh is ash. Her spirit is returned. Her Love is boundless and eternal. May we all take comfort in its warmth. "Until the rainbow burns the stars out in the sky."
– Always, Billye