The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
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12 Tribes of Hattie, is not, as you might expect, as I expected, specifically about the title character. Instead, it is about her 12 tribes, her children. The title, I assume, is borrowed from the Biblical story of Joseph, as he and his brothers are considered the 12 tribes of Israel. Ayana Mathis has wonderful language and introduces us to each child in a manner that will pull at your emotions, from sadness to pity to confusion, and hoping that someone will make you smile.
Hattie and her children were on my mind when, a few days ago, I went to the funeral of a cousin. She had 8 children and a legacy of grandchildren and great-grandchildren. A number of her descendants spoke during the service, providing their reflections on the mother and grandmother they knew. As I listed to them speak, I thought, "they sound like Hattie's children."
Like August and Hattie, my cousin and her husband apparently had some misunderstandings and unrest in their marriage. One child said the problem was that, if anything, they loved each other too much, they took each other so high and then had to bring themselves back down. Like August and Hattie, they stuck together, despite whatever disappointments they had. But unlike them, my cousin and her husband were also able to enjoy some good times together, as well.
About being loved, each of Hattie's children realized that their mother provided for them and did for them the things that mothers are supposed to do - fixed their dinner and mended their clothes, cleaned their house and took care of them when they were sick. But she was not, a sweet, lovey-dovey kind of mom. With 8 children to take care of, my cousin's children seemed to feel the same way. It was remarkable that most, maybe all, of her children made a joke about being the favorite child or a comment on knowing that their mother loved them, in her own way. One said that there were moments, as a child, that she didn't know if her mother loved her. And as an adult, she realizes that maybe, in those moments, her mother was trying really hard to love herself.
I thought about Hattie, and I think there were moments, when she, too, was trying to figure out how to love herself. And I know, that for me, as a mother, as well, sometimes I wonder, how, in a household, filled with people who need you and depend on you, do you gather up a little bit of selfishness to focus on yourself, for just a little while?
Ms. Mathis' Hattie rarely seemed joyful. My cousin was. She used to sing and dance and party and her children loved her. I'm glad that her 8 tribes had a mother who withstood any sadness and disappoint to still be able to be their mother; and in the end, I'm glad that they loved her enough to share her memories with us all.
(Click on title above for my review of the book on GoodReads.)