EDITOR’S NOTE: On Friday, August 28, 2009, longtime sports journalist Andre Johnson paid tribute to his mother, Betty Pegues, during her 50th birthday celebration before family, friends, and a host of well-wishers. MemphiSport decided to republish Johnson’s emotional tribute he gave five years ago. Johnson’s mother turns 55 on Thursday.
The year was 1988.
My sister, Tiffany, and I were preparing for the upcoming school year at Havenview Jr. High. Tiffany was entering junior high for the first time. I, on the other hand, was about to start eighth grade.
For years, Tiffany and I had become accustomed to mama sending us off to school on the first day in new clothes. School uniforms weren’t a requirement during those days, so basically going to school in new threads was a popular trend, especially in the ’80s.
But twenty-one years ago, something strange occurred days before school began. Mama informed me that while Tiffany would be going to school with a few new clothes, she was unable to purchase any for me, considering money was tight and that she had to reserve funds for more important things.
Granted, as an immature junior high kid who, like a number of my peers, thought mama was blessed with an unlimited flow of cash, I admittedly felt cheated and that mama had let me down. I sensed that mama had felt that way too. A couple of days before school began, she vowed to make it up to me, a promise that has impacted my life for the past two decades, a promise that I find myself reflecting upon every now and then, a promise that is worth mentioning and highlighting and embracing, especially in a setting such as the one that’s unfolding tonight.
Surely, many of you are here to pay tribute to Betty Pegues on her 50th birthday, in large part because this influential woman of God has touched your life, one way or the other. But for the past 34 years, Tiffany and I can attest to just how much of an impact she has had not just on us, but others who have come to know her.
She moved out of her parents’ home at a relatively young age, probably before she entered her twenties, and never returned even when the struggles and challenges of the real world seemed too overwhelming. Instead, mama, as Tiffany and I have known her, conducted herself as the strong woman she is.
From Frayser, to Binghampton, to Whitehaven, the results were always the same.
While often burning the candle at both ends by working two jobs so that we could live comfortably, mama made sure the house stayed cleaned and that we took part in our share of chores. Never do we recall going without a hot meal and, even though I endured what I believe was the worst beating of my life when I ripped and dismantled my bedroom nightstand on my fifteenth birthday because I didn’t get the gift I wanted, mama made it point to wash our clothes frequently. Then there were the memorable family moments, those intimate times that produced a unique relationship between a mother and her kids, times that, in a nutshell, explain why tonight’s grand occasion is so befitting.
The silly and witty side of mama very much existed in our home. How can we forget the times mama would often play her 70s and 80s hit records and dance and laugh and poke fun at us in a joyous atmosphere she created in the first place? How can we forget the times she took us out to eat and to church, often reminding us just how special we are, even during an era in which single-parent homes had become all to familiar? How can we forget the times that, when we strolled in mama’s house with bad report cards, how she would repeatedly yell at, punish, and explain to us the importance of an education?
It was, after all, those life-changing moments and childhood lessons that made me realize why tonight’s celebration makes all of the sense in the world. You see, God gave me what I believe to be a big-hearted mother. A mother who had a wealth of patience in raising two hard-headed kids. A mother who would nurture and confront and uplift us when we were treated unfairly by the outside world.
A mother who was quick to chasten us with switches, belts, phone cords, and fisticuffs when necessary, not to mention one who was just as quick to praise, reward, and encourage us when we met or exceeded her expectations. So as we continue to reflect upon and appreciate the most celebrated woman in my life, I would be remiss if I didn’t double check my thank-you checklist.
Thank you, mama for:
Raising Tiffany and me the best way you knew how.
Thank you for every single word you uttered when you asked God cover and protect us, from the crown of our heads to the soles of our feet.
Thank you for demanding that we go to church and introducing us to Jesus Christ, even though we were brought up in communities that were stricken by drugs and crime.
Thank you for all of the free hot meals, utilities, toilet paper, soap, beds, cable television, clothes, and nightstands, even though we often acted unappreciatively and took those things for granted.
Thank you for putting me through college, helping me get a leg up in my journalism career by taking me to seminars and job fairs, and showing off every sports article I wrote, even though you do not have a fond interest in sports.
Thank you for sticking by me during a time in which I felt I was at the lowest point in my life, even though I had gone against your wishes and downplayed your wisdom.
Most importantly, thank you, mama, for being the true Woman of God you are. A woman of integrity. A woman of character. A woman of excellence. A woman of tremendous beauty. A woman of powerful influence, not to mention a woman who, as far as I’m concerned, has always made it a point to deliver on her promise.
No doubt, 1988 was no exception. Sure, I sat in my classes on the first day of school, wearing clothes from the previous year and, looking back on it, there is something I should have learned from that, the lesson of gratification. But after going to school the second week of classes in new clothes, I’ve come to realize that your legacy, as far as I’m concerned, is that you simply wanted the best for us.
Even if it meant burning the candles at both ends.
That, after all, explains why tonight’s grand occasion makes all of the sense in the world. HAPPY BIRTHDAY!
And, if the Lord’s will, we will see you back here in ten years.
Andre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. Based in Dallas, Texas, Johnson covers the NBA Southwest Division. To reach Johnson, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.