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Video: Maya Angelou: My son is ‘my greatest gift’

  1. Closed captioning of: Maya Angelou: My son is ‘my greatest gift’

    >>> we're back now, 8:37 with "today's" baby bump. maya angelou opened up about her complicated relationship with her mother in her new memoir "mom and me and mom." she recently sat down with jenna bush hager who, of course, is preparing to become a mom herself. good morning.

    >> good morning, matt. people often ask dr. maya angelou how she became dr. maya angelou . her response, i became the woman i am because of the grandmother i loved and the mother i came to adore.

    >> both large and small. and to the fabric of my psyche that i can hardly distinguish where she stops and i begin. the life lessons are highlighted in my memory. like technicolored stars.

    >> it was a complicated relationship from the start.

    >> you actually grew up with your grandmother.

    >> yes, ma'am.

    >> did you feel abandoned?

    >> oh, yes, when i was 3 and my brother 5. my mother and father wanted to separate but neither of them wanted children. my grandmother said, send them to me. they put us on the train. me and bailey with tags on our arms.

    >> your grandmother was like a mother to you, as well.

    >> mama.

    >> you called her mama?

    >> yes.

    >> so in some ways you had two mother figures?

    >> i did. when i went to my mother at 13, i didn't understand, i didn't really like her very much.

    >> and you weren't comfortable calling her mama?

    >> no, i wouldn't call her mother .

    >> but you did have another name?

    >> yes, i called her lady.

    >> and she asked me why. i said because you don't look like a mother . and you're very pretty. and you act like a lady. she said, all right. and she took that. and i liked her for that.

    >> slowly, lady became more of a mom.

    >> she sparkled. she seemed to give off and with her energy, she said she'd shake like that. she says i keep my motor running.

    >> and her mom passed on lessons and words that would have a lasting impression shaping maya 's life forever.

    >> i love when she said, baby, i'm thinking you're the greatest woman i've ever met.

    >> that was amazing. i was 22 years old. i was 22 years old and i sat there thinking, you know, she's very intelligent. she says she's too mean to lie. so maybe, maybe i am going to be somebody.

    >> maya learned what being a mother truly meant when she became pregnant at just 17.

    >> she never made you feel bad.

    >> ever. ever. my son was born, she said remember this, when you step over my doorstep going out, you've already been raised. you know the difference between right and wrong. baby, do right. that's all. and this, don't let anybody change you from that. you can always come home.

    >> raising a son as a single mother changed maya 's perspective on life.

    >> i found that it made me wiser and i had -- i had patience with him. the greatest gift i've ever been given was my son.

    >> maya learned to be a woman from the generations who came before. and although she lost her precious mother to lung cancer , those lessons will live on forever.

    >> i remember telling her you were a poor mother of small children. there's never been anybody greater than you as a parent from a teenager to young adult . it's time for you to go, i'm thankful to god that he let you give me birth and i have you for my mother .

    >> and today is dr. angela's 85th birthday. she's celebrating with friends and still actively writing and teaching at wake forest university . she says she still thinks about her mom daily.

    >> that's nice. and dr. angelou, happy birthday , you are a treasure.

    >> happy birthday is right.

    >> jenna, thank you, as well.

By
TODAY books
updated 4/3/2013 4:52:47 PM ET 2013-04-03T20:52:47

Lauded poet and writer Maya Angelou pays loving tribute to her mother in “Mom & Me & Mom.” Here's an excerpt.

Porgy and Bess was going to be made into a movie with Diahann Carroll as Bess and Sidney Poitier as Porgy.

Otto Preminger was the director, and when he saw that I was six feet tall and Sammy Davis Jr., who was playing Sportin’ Life, was about five three or four, he asked Hermes Pan, the choreographer, to create a dance for us.

During the shooting of the film in California I made friends with Nichelle Nichols, the actress who was later to become Lt. Uhuru on Star Trek. Her gentleman friend and my gentleman friend were buddies and since we had a long weekend, and we were near San Francisco, I invited them to come down to San Francisco, where I had grown up, and to allow me to show off my city. They accepted my invitation.

I telephoned mother and said I wanted to bring three people down to introduce them to her and that we were going to “do” San Francisco.

“Oh baby, do honey, do come. Come home first. Come.”

We arrived at my mother’s house on Fulton Street. After all the introductions, she gave us drinks. As we went out to have a good time my mom said, “Come back around two thirty, no later than, and I will make you some omelets or crepe suzettes. Just come back and tell me all the fun you had.”

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We had a big wonderful San Francisco time and we did come back to Mother, who had her omelet pans out and a cold bottle of champagne. We had an after-theater dinner with her. My mother showed Nichelle and her gent where they could stay and she told my fella where he could stay, then she asked me, “Baby, will you stay with me?”

I said, “Of course.”

“I have run you a bath.”

Random House
I enjoyed the bath, and when I got to her bed- room she was already in her nightgown. I joined her in the bed and she said to me, “Baby, telephone this number and ask for Mr. Thomas, and say it’s long distance. Ask for Mr. Cliff Thomas.”

I dialed the number and a woman’s voice said, “Yes?”

I said, “Good morning, this is long distance for Mr. Cliff Thomas.”

The voice began yelling. “Bitch you know this is not long distance!” I hung up the telephone. “Mother, the woman said . . . ” I repeated the woman’s statement.

“That son of a bitch, he’s over there with his wife.”

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“Where else should he be?”

“No, they have been separated three years, and he and I have been together at least two years. Now I know he is trying to get back with her. I have asked him, ‘Do you want to go back with her? Don’t lie to me; do you want to go back?’ He said, ‘No, no.’ Yesterday I drove by her house and his car was parked in her driveway. I want to know what he is doing over there and why he is lying to me.”

Maya Angelou: ‘Letter to My Daughter’

I said, “Oh Mom. Come, Mom, don’t worry.” I put my arms around her and stroked her shoulders. “You know it’s all right. I know you will work it out. Calm down.” I kept murmuring to her and I put myself to sleep.

A man’s deep voice awakened me, “Thank you, Miss Myra. Oooh, thank you Miss Myra, oohhhh.” The man was crying, “Oooohhh, thank you, Miss Myra.”

I sat up in the bed and there was a huge man kneeling at the foot of the bed and my mother standing there with her hand in a paper sack. The man was crying. He had urinated all over himself and probably even gone further, judging by the stench in the room.

“Mister get up. Get up and leave. Go.” “Oohhhhhh, thank you, Miss Myra.” He stood up and rushed to the door. I took the paper sack.

Mother had her German Luger pistol in it. “Mother, what are you doing?”

“Oh baby, you don’t know how they treat me.” “Well, they don’t treat you that way very long, obviously.”

“You know, he was over there, just as I suspected, with his wife.”

“But Mother, how did you get him to come here?”

“Well, after you went to sleep, I got up and I took another bath and lotioned myself and I put on some clothes. And then I didn’t have anything else to do, so I got my keys and got in my car and drove to her house. I rang the bell. And when his wife opened the door I put my pistol on her and I said, ‘I’m here for your husband.’

“She said, ‘Here he is.’

“I told him, ‘Go, get in the driver’s seat and let me show you why you are alive this morning.’ ”

She made him drive her back to her house. She told him, “Come on inside. Open the bedroom door and get on your knees because if it wasn’t for my baby, I’d blow you a brand-new one this morning.” When he left I said to my mother, “You know I brought friends here. They think I am so such-a-much and they are in the house because I invited them. Nichelle Nichols and her fella and my fella, who are quite well-known artists, even famous, were going to be involved in a shooting. Was that fair to me?”

She came around to me and she said, “Baby, you know I didn’t do anything to that man. He’s the one who did something to me. You see, baby, you have to protect yourself. If you don’t protect yourself, you look like a fool asking somebody else to protect you.” I thought about that for a second. She was right. A woman needs to support herself before she asks any- one else to support her.

Maybe she could have found another time to assert herself and her rights than a night when my illustrious friends were in the house. But she didn’t, and that was Vivian Baxter.

Years later a friend took me to have my hair done around 10 a.m. in a salon on Fillmore Street. The beautician was busy and asked if I would come back in about an hour. There was an open bar across the street; after all, it was San Francisco. My friend and I went over to the bar. The bartender seemed familiar. After we ordered drinks I asked my friend Jim, “Will you ask the bartender his name?”

Jim asked the barkeep, “Excuse me, what is your name?”

“My name is Cliff.” Then he looked at me. “Ask her if she knows me. I know her mother.”

Then he spoke directly to me. “How’s your mother, baby?”

I said, “She’s fine, thank you.”

He said, “I was just up in Stockton visiting her. She is sure one hell of a woman.” He should know.

Copyright line: From the Book, MOM & ME & MOM by Maya Angelou. Copyright © 2012 by Maya Angelou. Reprinted by arrangement with Random House, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved.

© 2012 MSNBC Interactive

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