Where's Mama?: Odessa Brown Toyer, A Woman among Women

One would assume that a woman with a seventh-grade education, eight children to raise, and no money is considered a failure. Wrong! Not for this woman who was born in the Deep South in the 1920s. Instead, she used her situation as a ladder, setting goals and stepping over obstacles to successfully break free from the clutches of poverty.

Staring poverty in the face and cleaning huge homes of affluent white people for miniscule wages to take care of eight children, Odessa B. Toyer demonstrated how one woman of tenacious character and totally dependent on God beat the odds to rear a family that would make her proud and give back to enhance her quality of life. She did it all without handouts and taught her children to do the same. Out of her poverty came many and varied life lessons that live on through her offspring.

Decades later after all of her children were grown, it was shocking to see this strong woman forget the meal she had eaten fifteen minutes earlier, put keys in the refrigerator, or wander away from home to become a victim of the dreaded Alzheimer's disease. Once diagnosed, Odessa would fight the disease, and in the end, she strong-armed Alzheimer's by refusing to forget her children. When she died in 2008, we had no idea we would see Alzheimer's again. The monster was still lurking and would ultimately claim Odessa's oldest daughter.

Where's Mama goes against the stereotypical finger-pointing of poverty-stricken families. On the contrary, it will show that proper raising, not poverty or ethnicity, determines the successful outcome of children. This story is multifaceted with many twists, and it will show how Odessa's adult children chose serving over life's pleasures to give back to their mother and a sibling through caregiving that collectively spanned more than a decade.

I am Odessa's daughter. I lived through poverty with her and my siblings. That's why I'm telling her story. I believe this book will help others who have a will to climb out of poverty; and people tasked with caring for elderly loved ones who are victims of Alzheimer's.


--Sheryl Marsh