I am writing to tell you of a love story. My mother was is an 81 year old widow who until recently was living at the same house in Southbridge where she and my late Dad had raised their 8 children. Her eyesight was failing as well as her health and subtle signs of dementia were starting to appear.
Michael Agbortoko was a 9 year old boy who had recently emigrated to Southbridge from Cameroon in Central Africa. He was my mother’s neighbor.
He visited her often and sat with her by the hour. They would play checkers or cards or just watch TV.
I never understood their relationship and probably was a little jealous that my mother who, in my eyes, had not been as devoted a mother as I would have liked(how could one be totally devoted to 8 children when just making it through the day must have been a chore in itself?) was spending so much time with this kid. After all why wasn’t he out playing with the other numerous kids in the neighborhood? How come every time I took her to the grocery store she made a beeline for the Chips Ahoy extra chocolate chunk cookies just because they were Michael’s favorite? There were times when Michael would knock on the door while I was there and I regretfully turned him away telling him my mother was too tired to visit with him right now. Still I started to notice that Michael had a true devotion to my mother. I would arrive in the afternoon to help her with supper and to pay some bills and there would be Michael, sweeping her stairs or sitting watching “Judge Judy” with her.
Their friendship was unique and probably just what my mother needed at the time. She had lost her ability to drive and to be independent which was particularly devastating to her. Michael’s visits continued even after he moved from the neighborhood. He would walk to my Mom’s house after school just because he liked to see her. My mother was always a woman of few words who didn’t show emotion very often. Still, there was something that Michael was drawn too about her.
I’m not sure when but Michaels family moved to Mattapan and his visits became less frequent but if he was in Southbridge he always stopped by. A little over a year ago a letter arrived at my Mother’s home. It was from Michael. Now, age 88 my mother’s health had failed even more. She needed daily assistance with everything and her short term memory was just about gone. I was brought to tears by Michael’s letter (attached). That my mother had made such an impact on a young life floored me. I saw a side of my mother that I had never seen before. I placed the letter in a frame and displayed it in my Mother’s house so that all of my siblings could also see that my mother had touched lives other than ours.
Sometime thereafter Michael (sponsored by former state rep Mark Carron and his family) returned to his beloved Southbridge to attend Southbridge High School where he plays basketball and soccer and loves his school and his teachers. Some days my mother would remember that Michael had visited her that day. By this time he was a teenager and well over six feet tall, handsome and strong.
In November of 2008 my Mother ( age 89) could no longer stay at her home in Southbridge and she we moved her to an apartment in Charlton which was more secure and closer to my sisters and I.
I was concerned that Michael would stop by to visit and find her house empty. I didn’t want him to be worried. None of my family , nor my mother, new how to get in touch with him. At the time I didn’t know that he lived with the Carrons. Feeling like some sort of weird stalker I went on MYSPACE because I figured most teenagers would have a MYSPACE page and there I found Michael and sent him a message to let him know that my Mom had moved and told him that he was welcome to visit in her new home. He replied.
Just two short weeks later my mother became very ill and was taken to the hospital where she would spend the next three weeks. By this time Michael was e-mailing me on a regular basis to find out information about my mother ( attached). Things looked very grave and I wanted Michael to see her one more time. I wasn’t surprised to walk into the ICU one Friday afternoon to find Michael there along with several other family members.
My mother survived and is currently in Rehab at Radius Healthcare in Southbridge. Michael happens to live just a few doors away and when my husband and I walked in on Christmas day there was Michael quietly sitting by my mother’s bedside. Attached is a picture of Michael and my Mom taken that day(my Mom would kill me for sending you a picture of her not looking her very best). I told Michael that I would bring a checkerboard by so he and my Mom (who he calls Grandma) could play when he comes by to visit. Michael said that no one can beat him at checkers. I told him that must be because he learned from the best. He said “ I may have learned from the best but now I’m the BEST”. I brought the checker board to my Mom the other day and told her that Michael said she won’t be able to beat him – her reply “WELL HE’S WRONG”. Let the games begin! I started thinking that maybe it’s that competitive spirit that is responsible not only for keeping my mother alive but for forming the bond between she and Michael. This remarkable young man, soft spoken and confident, has taught me much in a short time and I now realize that my mother has too.
An addendum to this story: My Dad was a poet of sorts and often wrote poetry to my mother especially during the time that he was a Marine during World War II and was stationed far from home. One poem that I remember in particular(and that I have apparently stored in such a safe place that I cannot currently find it) was about how their lives together would be complete once they were together and started a family. The last line was about a “little boy named MIKE” for they planned on naming their first child(if it was a boy) Michael after the well known Holy Cross Jesuit, Fr. Michael Earls, who was a relative of and much admired by my father. My mother’s first pregnancy ended in a miscarriage and she was devastated. Their first born child was a girl and none of my three brothers was ever named Michael. My mother has her Michael now.
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