Roscoe and Mama Pearl

7 years ago
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Roscoe's caseworker led him up the cracked sidewalk toward a gingerbread house with white trim that looked like icing to him. Maybe his great-grandmother was a witch who lived in a gingerbread house like in Hansel and Gretel. He hoped she was a good witch, not a bad one, who'd use her magic to make his mother better. 

"His Mama done lost her mind. She ain't` never comin' back," he heard his foster mother whisper to a neighbor. 

It was the same day the caseworker talked to him about being adopted. 

"Roscoe your Mother's been in the hospital for two years. Her doctors say she isn't improving. I know you want to live with her again but we have to change your case plan, " she said, "I'm gonna find a new Mommy and Daddy to take care of you. How does that sound?"

He looked at Miss Rebecca through his thick eyeglasses and smiled. He always smiled at adults because they seemed to treat him nicer when he did. 

"No thank you. I want to keep my old Mom," he said wriggling around in the big sofa chair his foster father sat in every evening watching television. 

He wanted to tell Miss Rebecca that his old Mom was a good mother. She took him to the park everyday. She made him peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch that always had the right amount of jelly. Best of all, she knew his secrets and he knew hers. 

When she hid in the closet from the scary monsters, he was the one who chased them out of the apartment with the plastic sword left over from his Halloween costume. He loved his old Mother and missed her so much he wet the bed every night because it made the hurt in his heart feel better.

Miss Rebecca with her red freckles and shiny hair patted his hand and said "I hope you warm up to the idea, Roscoe, because I don't have any choice in the matter."

Then two days ago his foster mother barged into his bedroom, excited, and told him to pack his things because he was going to live with his great-grandmother. 

"I've been praying you wouldn't be adopted outside your family Roscoe. It's better for you to be with your own people," she said. 

To his surprise, she hugged him. It made him think maybe she really did like him.

The grass in Roscoe's great-grandmother's yard was green. Green was his favorite color. When the daisies and azaleas planted along edge of the sidewalk leading to the front door of the house curtsied and blew him kisses, it made him feel welcome. 

Mama Pearl greeted him and Rebecca at the front door.

"Thank you for taking care of my great-grandson, Miss," she said opening the door wide enough to receive Roscoe and the green garbage bag he was carrying with all his clothes inside of it--but no one else. 

"Right now I need to get to know this boy better. I'm sure you understand," she continued, "You have a nice day. Ya' heah." 

She closed the door before Rebecca could respond.

Pearlie Mae Atkins looked at her skinny, 7-year-old great-grandson with his coke bottle glasses and uncombed locks of curly hair and said, "I'm your great-grandmother Pearlie Mae but you can call me Mama Pearl. What's your name?"

"My name is Roscoe," he said and smiled.

"Roscoe was your great-grandfather's name. He and your mother Jocelyn were the best of friends when she was growing up," she said, "She was a special girl and he loved her very much."

Roscoe adjusted his eyeglasses and tried to fit all of Mama Peal into the thick orbs of glass. She was an old woman but not sickly looking. Her hair was mostly grey but it still had lots of patches of brown. Her eyes were bright and friendly and she had a kind smile. He imagined his mother would look like Mama Pearl when she got old. 

"I'm 78 years old, son. I'm really too old to be trying to take care of a boy your age but you're my blood. I just couldn't stand by and have you adopted by strangers. So now here we are. Let's just take it one day at a time and see how things work out. Okay?" she proposed.

"Okay," he replied but he had already decided he wanted to belong to her. He startled Mama Pearl by grabbing hold of her waist and clutching her with all his might.

 "It's okay grandson, you're with Mama Pearl now," she said gently stroking his back.




Mama Pearl noticed that Roscoe had inherited some of his mother Jocelyn's peculiar ways. As a little girl, Jocelyn would spend hours talking to invisible friends, Roscoe spent hours drawing pictures of things both real and imagined. 

The trouble was his drawings couldn't be contained on a single piece of paper or two or three. He wasn't happy unless he was drawing on a sidewalk or the house walls. 

The first time he drew an elaborate picture on his bedroom walls, Mama Pearl made him scrub the walls and took away his crayons and pencils. Afterwards, he looked so pitiful and miserable she returned them to him with a stern warning not to draw on the walls again. He promised he wouldn't but of course he did. 

Roscoe would find a wall space he thought she wouldn't notice, behind a door or next to a corner cabinet, and  leave one of his colorful drawings. Mama Pearl finally concluded he needed lots of space to express the feelings bottled inside of him. Exasperated, she bought him a box of  erasable markers to make his inevitable "wall washing" job easier.

After watching Roscoe's mother struggle for years in the public school system, "a square peg" trying to squeeze into a round hole until she gave up and dropped out, Mama Pearl decided her grandson deserved a better chance for success. 

She convinced Rebecca to pay his tuition at a private school a church member told her about. It was a school that catered to gifted students with artistic abilities. Roscoe blossomed there.

The day he placed a crumpled note from his teacher into her hand. She looked at the note, requesting an immediate meeting with her, then glared at Roscoe.

"What you done, done, boy?" she asked.

"Nothing, Mama Pearl," he replied squirming under the intensity of her glare.

"It's about my drawing," he added.

"Roscoe, if I go down to that school and find out you've been drawing in places you shouldn't, I'm gonna bust your behind right there on the spot. Do you hear me?" she said angrily.

"Yes'm," he answered and lowered his eyes. He removed his eyeglasses and began to clean them with the edge of his shirttail.



Mama Pearl made arrangements to leave her part-time job, as a cook at the college sorority house, early. She caught the cross-town bus to the area where Roscoe's school was located and then took a taxi to the school.

His teacher Ms. Schute was waiting for her. 

"I'm so happy to meet you Mrs. Atkins. You're Roscoe's grandmother right?"

"I'm pleased to meet you, too," Mama Pearl replied, "And, no, I'm his not his grandmother. My daughter, Fannie, his grandmother, is deceased. I'm his great-grandmother."

"Wow! You look too young to be a great-grandmother," she exclaimed.  

"I asked you to meet me at school this afternoon so I can show you one of Roscoe's drawings. It was submitted to the University of Mesa Art Group as part of their "American faces" exhibition," she explained.

"Please follow me," the teacher said. Mama Pearl followed the teacher down a long hallway lined with lockers to a set of doors that opened into a large auditorium. 

When she entered the auditorium. Mama Pearl gasped. Dangling from a hook in a ceiling support beam and hanging down to the ground, was an enormous drawing of the Statute of Liberty. She immediately recognized the drawing as one of Roscoe's and observed he had replaced Lady Liberty's iconic face with hers. 

"Oh, my goodness!" Mama Pearl exclaimed.

"The panel of judges who viewed the work submitted by our students, were absolutely floored by Roscoe's entry," the teacher said, "Roscoe won the grand prize and a '$1500' savings bond." 

"When the judges asked Roscoe why he put your face on his Statue of Liberty drawing, he said, "Because Mama Pearl gave me a home when no one else wanted me." Your grandson is something special Mrs. Atkins."

Mama Pearl nodded her head in agreement, quietly saying to herself, "Oh my goodness, Roscoe, look what you've done."


















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