I’ve called Delores McCain my second mom for as long I’ve been working with Austin Weekly News.
She’s the reason I’m working here. It was late summer 2005. I was working at North Lawndale Community News and was looking to move on. Dee called me up and told me about an opening at AWN, doing so at the behest of the paper’s publisher. She and I first met when I freelanced for the Weekly starting in late 2002. She, in turn, provided a few stories to North Lawndale during my time there. Dee sort of took on a motherly role for me then.
So she reached out to me in ’05. I didn’t know until this past week that she not only made a courtesy call but organized a meeting with all the writers and contributors at AWN about supporting my hiring. Malcolm Crawford, a business leader in Austin and longtime columnist for the paper, told me about that last Thursday a couple of days before she died. That was Mama Dee.
The last time I spoke with her was about two weeks ago. She talked about being released from the hospital where she’d been since late July battling pneumonia. She had moved to various rooms, including the intensive care unit. “I wish they would keep you in one place,” I told her.
After our phone call, I sent out an e-mail to the entire AWN family about her hospital stay and improvement. Then last Tuesday, before heading home after work, something reminded me to call Dee at home. Someone else picked up and then handed the phone to her brother Dennis. We’d met before at Rush Hospital in Chicago when Dee was diagnosed with leukemia. He told me about her condition and how quickly her health had deteriorated following a surgery to remove fluid from both lungs. It was her wish not to be hooked up to life support and her family was going to honor that.
I broke down on the phone. It was a blow and shock because she seemed fine when we last talked. I told our publisher Dan Haley but couldn’t even get the words out at first; the tears wouldn’t stop.
The next couple of days involved calling folk in Austin. I had a hard time relaying the story about her health over and over again. Folks I had told earlier that she was OK were equally shocked. I got a call early Saturday from Dennis that Dee had died. Arlene Jones, our regular columnist puts it best – God just had a big story to cover and needed Delores.
I’m missing her. I even missed talking with her while she was in the hospital. She and I talked every week and not just about AWN or stories. Dee was everything people have said – loving, passionate, feisty and a dedicated journalist. And she was funny, as folk have noted. She one time had me rolling on the floor with laughter. I think I’ll keep that joke between us. All I’ll say is she would have made Richard Pryor blush.
She was also a teacher, but not in any structured way. You learned about life and history from listening to her tell stories and tell it like it is.
She was one of my biggest supporters. Of all the things she said and believed, she always saw the best in black men. That’s not always the case in our community and among our sistas. Dee, mind you, didn’t cut us any slack when we did dumb or irresponsible things. But she always talked about the good things we did and wanted the paper to show that.
In July, we did a special issue dedicated to good black men doing good things in the community. I didn’t hear a lot of feedback, positive or otherwise, when the issue came out – that did surprise me. But Dee was so delighted we were able to do that.
She would set me straight on some things sometimes. But what she gave me and other brothers out there was constant support and unconditional love. We don’t always get that.
Maybe she was like that because of her upbringing. Dee came of age in the 1960s. She supported black men while not feeling the need to compete with them. Dee was a strong black woman who didn’t feel the need to constantly remind or hold that over a brotha’s head. In fact, I see that in a lot of our lady elders. She was just real, as real as any person you’ll ever meet.
It’s been a tough month for me. Health issues, job issues, family issues, and then my second mom left me. Even though I know she was having a hard time, I really needed her this past month. But I know she was with me in spirit and always will be.