When we were younger, my mother and I read a book called Speaker for the Dead, by Orson Scott Card. In that book, there were priest-like Speakers who would interview the living members of a deceased persons family or their friends/acquaintances, and find a way to describe the person to people who may not know them. This was not always flattering but it was always truthful. The goal was to give people some sense of the person that they may not have known.
My mother and I both were big proponents of Truth. She always asked me to remind people if they were not going to be truthful once she was dead, what was the point of even talking about her. She did not want people standing over her lying about how much they loved her. Thus our interest in the Speaker for the Dead. This document is meant to be a Speaking of a sort. I cannot speak for anyone else’s point of view, this was how I saw her. If you want to Speak about her, be truthful even if it is not always polite. She would have preferred it that way. She will never pass this way again. Speak your truth and in truth immortalize her.
Daisy Lozine Howze (aka Judy)
It was the middle of the last century. A tumultuous time filled with change, revolution, wars, evolution and the transformation of the human race in ways no one could have ever imagined it. During this year of change, in what was a legendary city of the old south, Mobile Alabama, (which derives its name from the Maubila Indians present at its founding) Daisy Lozine Betton was born, January 15, 1945.
That same year would see the U.S. Marines would land on Iwo Jima, President Roosevelt would die in Warm Springs GA, and Nazi Germany would surrender in early Spring. Churchill, Stalin and Roosevelt, would enter the war united against Imperial Japan.
Doctor Benjamin Spock published his seminal work, Baby and Child Care during what would later be called the Baby Boom years. Air Force Captain Chuck Yeager in the experimental aircraft, X1 was the first human being ever to travel faster than the speed of sound. Jackie Robinson entered the Major Leagues as the first person of color.
In the summer of that year, the first and only two atomic weapons ever to be used against other human beings would be used, first at Hiroshima, Japan, August 6 and three days later at Nagasaki, Japan, August 9.
These were the backdrop of the world of Daisy Betton. In the years that follow, the United States would be transformed, again and again, remaking itself anew each time. In her way Daisy was very much like that, constantly remaking herself, rediscovering who she was each time.
I can’t say much about her childhood, she kept it to herself. She had siblings, Nathan Betton, Gail Strickland, Angelus Rowe, and Diane Lowman but she was private about the times before their adulthood and their relationship was like most relatives, passionately quiet at times but always quietly passionate. I have no doubt that she loved her siblings, in some years, they were all she talked about, good or bad.
Mobile is a major metropolis today but in my youth I made several trips to it and never remember seeing a city at all. It seemed peaceful. A small quiet town. A place where you could walk without your shoes on, if you were so inclined. I remember doing that. Someplace where tire swings and shooting marbles were the order of the day if you were a kid. The circumstances of her leaving her home town behind were never known to me.
When I meet my mother it was nineteen years later; working as a medical assistant in New York City awaiting the my birth. Soon after, Patricia, Robin and a number of years later, Robert Howze, Jr. were also born and raised under her keen and ever-vigilant eyes. These next fifteen years would not be quiet ones. An intense woman and beautiful woman, she would move several times from Queens, to settle in the Bronx. She would later marry Robert Howze, Sr. and even much later William Allen.
A meticulous woman, detail-oriented, in her housework, whether it was cooking or cleaning, if it were worth doing, it was worth doing well. A renaissance woman, she strove to excel in whatever she was doing, a great cook, an excellent housekeeper, an amazing seamstress. For a number of years she made a wide selection of our clothing from scratch! Some of my fondest memories were of walking through the patterns she would lay out onto the floor before cutting it up and sewing it together. She made many of our dress clothes, even things I hesitate to remember; a pink suit comes to mind, for instance!
She would be called an activist today, she was an advocate for anyone who needed her. She created and lead the Evergreen Avenue Tenants Association, when services in the building we lived in did not meet her strict standards. She helped with the Parents and Teachers Association to let them know she kept her eyes on the people teaching her children. She was exacting and knew what she wanted. She was a perfectionist. This came at a price.
Some years after she married, like most young married couples, they struggled to make ends meet. During times of stress, depression would take hold and she would be unable to focus on the things that mattered to her. She even considered suicide. This is tough to hear because few people would know this about her. She seemed unstoppable, immovable, like a giant. But for a time, she was as mortal as the rest of us. In the late seventies, she began helping the kids with our homework and it rekindled her desire to finish her education. She had a secret love of poetry that she rarely shared but studying together, my appreciation for it grew.
Somewhere around the tender age of 33, she decided to go to work for herself as a salesperson, capitalizing on her stylish dress and commanding presence, successfully selling Tupperware and Princess House products. I know this because she convinced me that I should do it with her. She was a natural (and I did all the heavy lifting). Strong presentation skills mixed with her love of people and enjoyment of the product made her an excellent salesperson. She also began working on finishing her education, acquiring her GED in 1982.
I left to join the military but my mother continued her education, graduating from the College for Human Services with her Bachelor’s Degree. She was immensely proud of that achievement, perhaps her crowning moment, where she managed to do something she considered impossible and not only did it, but was ranked at the top of her class.
She took a job with the County with Social Services. She believed in the job when she took it but Social work being what it is, grinds the compassion from its workers and she did not seem to ever be very happy with it as time went on. An injury at work sidelined her and she was unable to return to work. No real resolution had ever been achieved regarding that injury; something that nagged her as unfinished business. She hated unfinished business.
I moved away to California and learned of my mother’s grandchildren over the phone, since that was our preferred form of correspondence. She also learned of my very late addition to the family the same way.
Latricia Howze, daughter of Patricia Howze
Latricia has a son as well, Daisy’s great-grandson, Trevione Cheatham.
PrynceElyja, daughters and sons of Robin Howze.
Kimahri Blackmon, son of Thaddeus Howze
I did not return to New York often and when I did it was rarely good news. My next trip there was, when my brother, Robert Howze, Jr. passed away. Daisy was devastated. She was never the same after that; lamenting that parents should never have to bury their children. As her youngest child, theirs was a very special bond; he was her last child, she accepted him, no matter his choices, no matter his circumstances. He was not always good, but he was always good to her. She missed him terribly.
Robert Howze Senior, would later be diagnosed with cancer. No treatment was ever successful and eventually he succumbed to it only a few years later.
When Daisy was diagnosed with cancer, it was some time before I knew of it. We talked frequently but she was mostly worried about my life, what I might be doing, whether I was happy, motherly kinds of things. It was what I loved the most about her. She never let me feel that she ever stopped loving me, even when we had disagreements. I discovered she was sick when she moved back to the South, Atlanta, I believe. That brief moment of independence, of solitude was for her a time to come to understand what her life meant to her. That she had done the best she could do for her family and that we would now have to soldier on without her.
I had time to think about it and process it, but I was never prepared for the reality of her passing. During the last years of her life, we talked frequently, mostly about my family, my work, my happiness, my hopes for the future. I tried to convince her that she should be asking herself those questions but she always shushed me and told me that I was interfering with her work. You see, her children were her work. She wanted them to be happy, even if they were not sure it was what THEY wanted for themselves.
Near the end, our chats were longer, more serious, yet more funny in the way of someone going to an airport to a place you won’t be going and know they don’t have phone service there yet. So we talked about what to do in the event of this or that. Her way of giving me the last keys to her wisdom. The last thing we talked about was one of the first things we talked about: The secret of our success.
When I was nine, she told me, after I had just finished sassing her and getting some old school discipline for getting the only B, I ever got on a report card: Why do we succeed? Because we MUST. At the time, it went right over my head. I am not going to lie. I had no idea of what she was talking about. As I grew older, it always came back to me, mostly at the darkest and most difficult times in my life. That is when you know something is good, you think about it when you can’t think about anything else. We succeed, because we must. As people of color, no other choice is an option. Failure is success, poorly dressed. Get it some better clothes. Those were her last words to me. She believed that Success was a choice and it was always ours to make if we wanted it.
My mother lived into the beginning of the next century, where miracles of technology are being created every day, but the miracles she was most interested in were the inner ones. Development of character, drive, the will to do your best, love, love of family and of self, inner peace, being able to be calm when all about you are losing it. Her favorite short poem was the Serenity Prayer:
God grant me the strength,
to Change the things I can,
Accept the things I can’t and,
the Wisdom to know the difference.
Magnificent, strong-willed, difficult, intelligent, dynamic, loving, generous, talented, beautiful, charming. These are all words used to describe her. For me, she will always be my Mother.
Daisy Howze, died on June 20, 2007. She was 62 years of age.
Speaker for the Dead: Thaddeus Howze