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Sept. 10, 2021

MY Mama Should Have Been The Border Czar

MY Mama Should Have Been The Border Czar

Wambui Bahati tells a story of how, when growing up in Greensboro North Carolina in the 1950s and 1960's, her mother kept an eye on which children could and could not enter their home. Wambui believes that her mother was so good at investigating the children that she did not recognize - that her mother could have been a border czar.

Transcript

The rule was that if my mama wasn't home, children couldn't come from outside to her house to play with us. Even when she was there, my mother was very strict about who could come in and who could not come in.

My mother seemed to know everybody who all her children knew. And if she recognized somebody that she had never seen before, she was at the door with her foot across the doorway, and her hand would pull that door up to her back real quick. 

She'd look down at a child and say, "I've never seen you before. What's your name?" "Mm-hmm" "What's your mama's name?" "What's your daddy's name? Where does your momma work?" "What kind of work does your daddy do?" "What church do y'all go to?" "Where did y'all move here from?"

Now, if my mother was satisfied with the answers that she had received, then she'd move her foot aside, back up the door, open the door wide, and you could come in. But that doesn't mean the investigation was over. 

Later on, she'd be on the phone. "Hello, Alice. I got this girl over here. She says her name is Joyce Dittmar. Do you know any Dittmars living out here on Martin Street?" "Uh-huh. Oh, yeah. She did say they were from South Carolina. Oh, that's her grandmamma that sang in the choir? Oh, here at Providence Baptist doing all the beautiful solos? That's her grandma? Oh, well, God bless her."

"Mm-hmm. Yeah, she said her daddy was on down at the Cigaret Factory." "Uh-huh." "What? "Uh-huh." Yeah, I heard about that. That man they call [02:13 Ginger Bear sp]? "Yeah. Didn't he do time?" "He still do one time. Oh, that's her uncle?" "Oh, Lord. I do remember seeing the name, Dittmar. I do remember them saying the name Dittmar on the paper when they wrote about him. "Mm-hmm. That's that girl's uncle?" "Mm-hmm. You never know."

"Well, I thank you, Alice, because, you know, you can't be too careful. You can't be too careful who you're letting into your house." "Uh-huh, That's what I always say." "Okay. All right. Thank you, Alice. I knew that you would know." "Okay then. All right. Bye-bye." 

But even after the investigation was over, it didn't mean that you were safe. Just because you've passed the investigation the first day doesn't mean you're home safe. My mother would keep inquiring about you for months to come. And if she found something she didn't like, then she would let me know you were not to come back to our house no more. 

My mother should have been the border czar.