Jerry Johnson, 52, interviews his mother, Carrie Conley, 80, about raising six children as a single mother.
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Jerry Johnson: Now, Daddy left when I was around five or six. You had six kids at that point. And I guess the thing that puzzles me, as a parent now, is how you kept all that together. You know I cannot remember one Christmas that I didn’t feel like I was the luckiest kid in the world, even though now I realize we had hardly anything in terms of money. How did you hold that together?
Carrie Conley: I worked at Outer Drive Hospital in Detroit, and we got one sick day a month: that was twelve days a year. If I was sick, I would still go to work. I would never call in a sick day—I was saving those days for Christmas. And at Christmastime, they would pay me for those days. That’s what I would use for y’all’s Christmas. They had a nice Salvation Army. Around the first of December, all the rich people would clear out their children’s toy chest, and they would take all these nice toys to the Salvation Army. I would go there and I would get me a huge box, and I would go around and pick out toys. I would get that whole big box of toys for a couple of dollars. Then I would get y’all one new toy, because that’s all I could afford. Then I would use the rest of the money for food. And so it always seemed like we had a big Christmas.
Jerry: I remember those boxes of fresh oranges and apples and the cakes—
Carrie: I baked homemade cakes, and I still do that today. So we just had a nice Christmas, because that’s what I’d worked for. I’d say, “Jerry, write three things down that you want.” I would pick one so you’d have one new toy. I never did tell you it was Santa Claus, though, ’cause I said, I cannot give no man credit for this.
Jerry: I told that to some of the kids at school once. We were talking about Santa Claus, and I said, “Man, hard as my mother work, we weren’t gonna give no white man the credit!” [laughs] You’ve been through a lot. What would you say, thinking down through the years, would be some of the things that you were the most proud of?
Carrie: You know the thing that I’m most proud of? That I was able to raise my six children and you all turned out as well as you did. Because that was really a load on my shoulders. And you know, the Lord blessed all of them. Just like when you were a boy: I asked you what you wanted to be, and you said you wanted to be a doctor. So when you graduated out of medical school, Washington University, that was the happiest day of my life—when you walked across that stage and you became a doctor. I took you to church, and I took you to Sunday school. I took you when you wanted to go, and I took you when you didn’t. But son, it paid off — you have to agree.
Jerry: Oh, I agree, I agree.
Carrie: I’m so grateful how the Lord blessed me, and how my children turned out. Whatever you attempt to do, don’t give up; you just got to press on, and God’ll make a way.
Also in honor of Mother’s Day, StoryCorps has published its newest book, Mom: A
Celebration of Mothers from StoryCorps. Mom, an instant New York Times bestseller, presents a moving portrait of motherhood, with more than 30 inspiring stories about mothers recorded between parents, siblings, and children in StoryCorps booths across the country. For more information about the book, visit: www.storycorps.org/book.
Listen to StoryCorps founder and president, Dave Isay, talk about Mom.