I moved to Los Angeles when I was in my early 20’s, I felt I needed to break away from my mothers’ apron strings. I originally wanted to go to NYC, but I was scared away by my native New Yorker mother Doris who often told me horror stories about the people, the weather, the “harsh living conditions.”
I lied to my mother so that I could move to Los Angeles. I told her I had an audition for the touring production of Dreamgirls. I had studied at American Conservatory Theater, fancied being a sitcom actress. I left San Francisco two years after Dreamgirls opened on Broadway in 1983. I had no idea how hard it was to break into “show business.”
Doris often phoned and we wrote letters to each other, well she typed and I saved them all. Doris tried in her way to encourage me and she often sent me money when I was struggling. Sometimes Doris, who was pretty much Velcroed to me and my younger brother David, but mainly to me, she would phone me after she saw something disturbing on the news. She’d say, “You know I heard a woman was killed in…” “mom, if I’m talking to you on the phone I’m not dead, right?” “Well, of course you’re not dead, I was just calling to see how you’re doing!”
What was funny about Doris was that she often “signed off” on her letters in quirky ways. Sometimes she’d sign, “Love, Mom Terrific.” Or, she’d sign, “Love Doris, mom.” Once, and I can’t find that letter, she signed, “yours very truly, Doris Banbury.” I teased her about it, “mom, you’re a Mcgillicuddy.” “A what?” “Remember Lucy Ricardo’s mother Mrs. Mcgillicuddy? Remember how quirky she was? I think that’s you. I mean, why would you sign your name? I’m your daughter, I know your name.” “Well, I was a secretary for many years, wasn’t I? I was a 1426 Sr. Clerk Typist, you see, and I had to sign my name, so I got used to doing it, that’s all. No big deal!”
I stayed in Los Angeles for about 7 years and eventually came back home feeling defeated, sad, depressed and alone. Lost my job, got evicted, etc. Doris was kind at first, she even waited for me at the bus stop by our house when I came home. But as soon as I set my things in my room and lay on the couch in the embryo position in the living room wondering what the hell happened to my life Doris chimed in with her motherly words of wisdom, her no-nonsense New York mentality and that “smart-ass” sense of humor I inherited from her.
Me: “Mother, I just…I don’t know what happened? I tried to make it as an actress, I failed. I tried writing plays and I had a couple of shows, but nothing much came of it.”
Doris: “You lost your job, got evicted and your idiot fiancé hit you when you broke off the engagement. Yet, you’re still standing, that has to mean something.”
Me: “I just don’t understand what happened to me. I just want to lay here and have a nervous breakdown, I don’t know what to do.”
Doris: “Oh, I know, you had it hard, I know! (mom said clutching her eye glass chain) Meanwhile, by 1963 I was a single mother of two children by two different men, both who did not want to have anything to do with me or my kids. That was at a time when having children without a husband was not cool. What did I do? I managed to take care of all of us with one paycheck.”
Me: “Mom, I’m serious, I’m in real pain here!”
Doris: “Oh, I know you are, my dear, I’ve got a pot on for some tea. Did I tell you your brother was supposed to be a tumor?”
Me: ~heavy sigh~ “Mom, c’mon.”
Doris: “You see I did not know I was pregnant, well I didn’t know with you either, although I think with you the condom broke. Anyway, with your brother, well I was six months pregnant and I developed a horrible pain in my stomach. Anyway, I went to the doctor and was on the examining table when the doctor said, ‘you might have a tumor.’ Then when he left the room David started to crown butt first I believe. Before you know it, I had a premature 3-pound baby boy that I went on welfare for the first three years of his life to support. Well, I also had the help of the March of Dimes, God bless them.”
Me: (defeated). “I can’t…I go on, ma, I’m serious. I feel like such a failure.”
Doris: “I didn’t raise you to fail, first of all. Second, you can’t fail if you’re still living, Lorrie. But, I can imagine how hard you had it in Los Angeles, poor baby. Did I tell you when you were three years old I almost went to jail for writing a bad check at the grocery store? David hadn’t been born yet, but I was humilated, let me tell you! Thankfully and with the grace of God, the manager felt sorry for me and bought my bag of groceries. I still tear up when I think about that. Wonder whatever happened to that woman?”
Me: “MOTHER I’M TALKING ABOUT MEEEEEE!!!”
Doris: “I will kindly ask you to stop yelling at your mother, God you’re such a drama queen. Look, it’s simple, you have two choices, work or school. Or both! That’s what you WILL do because you are in a country that gives black folks opportunities, unlike our ancestors before us, remember them? Wow, what THEY went through! (shook her head) Big deal you didn’t make it as an actress, who cares? You still have to live, you’re young, you’ll get a good job, you’ll find a good man, one who won’t hit you. But, in the meantime while you’re under your mother’s roof, work…school…or both. Those are your choices right now. Oh, the tea’s ready!”
And with that stated Doris jumped up from the couch and scurried to the kitchen to turn off the screaming pot of water on the stove. My mini break down was over.
There is so much to relay about Doris Banbury, a child of a British Canadian mother and Jamaican father who divorced when Doris was four years old. But, I cannot possibly put it all into a blog. What I will always remember about my mother Doris, however, is her funny sense of humor, her loving protective attention to her children whom she single-handedly raised to a positive fruition, and her love for photography; she studied the works of Immogen Cunningham, Ansel Adams and Gordon Parks.
What will never leave me, including watching my mother pass away and be buried, is her telling me about herself, what little she offered. What stuck with me; the stories she often told me about visiting the Bronx Zoo and telling her troubles to an aging Lion named King, she was about 8 years old at the time. Years later when Dementia and Parkinson’s diseases set in, Doris told me she had been brutalized by her “godfather” for nearly a decade. Never knew mom was a rape survivor. Although, when we were kids and begged mom to give us a daddy she, and I swear this is true, she would flail her arms and scream, “NO, YOU’ll BE RAPED!”
I understood why Doris made me promise that when she died I was to bury her with her mother Gladys who resides in a cemetery near Whiteplains NY, mom made all the arrangements and kept the receipts. Doris’ beloved mother Gladys Peryl, my grandmother whom I never met, seemed a strong, determined and sweet and attentive mother to her sensitive child. Gladys actually took Doris in the 1940s to abort the violators child, Doris was a young teen at that time, maybe 13 years old. And a couple of years later when the violator was in the hospital on his death bed Gladys took Doris to get a verbal apology from him which he generously offered. I understood why Doris adored Gladys, she often spoke highly of her.
I adored Doris, but in my own way. While I was not overly affectionate I liked that she saw strength in me and perhaps determination when I did not see it in myself. What I will remember of Doris is her kindness, her deeply-rooted vulnerability, her insecurities, of course her humor and her strength and love as a mother; she SHOWED my brother and me love, we rarely said “I love you.” Doris attended every single freaking school recital, she was ALWAYS down in front with her camera to take a flash shot…always a FLASH shot!!! Blinded the hell out of me, but that was Doris. She kept all our school pictures and our report cards.
Doris showed encouragement and love rather than talk about it. For that I am grateful. I am also grateful that I caught her last breath as I watched her pass away. It was a most odd experience, but one I truly believe was meant to happen between mother and daughter. And when they lowered her coffin into the ground, of course humor set in, the guy removed the strap too soon and mom tilted down head first into the earth. (see video if you’d like) At least my flowers that my brother bought for me to place onto the coffin remained. I am grateful for that as well.
As I write this I am listening to one of mom’s many CDs, mostly of “world” music, Cesaria Evora. Mom loved good music and reading, she was a voracious reader. At last count my brother who stored mom’s books, found about 390…so far.
Doris’ major true love besides music, books and her mother was photography. Doris loved to photograph animals, architecture, people. When she was in her 20s Doris took celebrity photos in NYC, some of which I exhibited a few years ago. In 2010 a select few of Doris’ celebrity photos were featured in a SF MOMA exhibit and were purchased by SF MOMA for their photographer collection. Here is the museum link.
In her later years Doris enjoyed photographing lions and tigers, she loved going to the SF Zoo. And she loved photographing landscapes, San Francisco murals and her two grandchildren, Belinda May (L) and Denise Elizabeth (R) my brother’s first born whom he named after me, Lorrie Denise.
“Rest now, my dear.”
“Life moves forward, so shall we.” Lorrie Denise Sargent, 2016
“Viewing” photo courtesy of David Banbury (SFMTA), Doris’ son; SF MOMA photo of Doris courtesy of Denise Banbury, Doris’ granddaughter
Thank you for reading my most personal blog. LDS