When he was just 2 weeks old, Ibukun Owolabi's mother died suddenly and unexpectedly. It fell to his then-teenage sister Alice to help raise him instead.
"It's still really hard to talk about her," Alice says of their mother, "because her passing was around the same time as you being born."
On a recent visit with StoryCorps, Alice, now 25, talked with her 10-year-old brother about the mother they shared — but whom he never really knew. That doesn't mean he wasn't loved by her, though.
"In the two weeks you guys were together, she was always kissing you and always holding you," Alice tells Ibukun. "She did love you a lot."
And Ibukun's mother, a Nigerian immigrant, did leave him an inheritance — both her stubbornness, which he says he got from her, and the very visible reminder of that stubbornness: his name.
Alice says that everyone had decided to name him something easy for people to pronounce, something in English. Well, everyone, that is, except his mom. She wanted him to have a Nigerian first name: Ibukunoluwa, which means "blessing from God."
Obviously she won.
"With your name — and just anything in life — Mommy, if she had an opinion, she wasn't going to back down," Alice says.
Still, that isn't Alice's favorite memory of their mother. She tells Ibukun that, in fact, she cherishes a memory she's kept with her since she was his age.
Their mother had been a nurse, working the night shift, and so she'd return home quite late. At which point, Alice once went over to her, took her mom's shoes off and gave her a foot massage.
"I remember she was telling the person on the phone how nurturing I was," Alice says. "And now, I'm a teacher, and anytime someone asks me why I'm a teacher, I'm like, 'I'm nurturing.' That's exactly what she wants to say about me."
And while Ibukun has never gotten the chance to hear his mother say something about him, Alice thinks she knows what their mom would say if she could.
"She'd probably just be standing back nodding her head, being like, 'I did that, I did that,' " Alice laughs.
"You're like a little piece of Mommy on Earth," Alice continues, "so I just want you to really understand who you are and where you come from."
Audio produced for Morning Edition by Jud Esty-Kendall.
StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
It's Friday, which is when we hear from StoryCorps - loved ones question each other. And on this Friday before the Fourth of July weekend, we're going to hear from a 10-year-old boy who wanted to know more about his mom, an immigrant from Nigeria.
Ibukun Owolabi lost his mother, Rosemary, when he was just 2 weeks old. It then fell to Ibukun's teenage sister Alice to help raise him. A decade later, Alice brought her brother to StoryCorps so that he could find out more about their mother.
ALICE MITCHELL: It's still really hard to talk about her. Her passing was around the same time as you being born, so it's, like...
IBUKUN: A happy moment and a sad moment.
MITCHELL: Yeah. But in the two weeks you guys were together, she was always kissing you and always holding you. She did love you a lot. Do you think that you two have any similarities?
IBUKUN: Yeah, I probably get my stubbornness from her.
MITCHELL: Definitely, you got that from mommy. She wanted you to have a Nigerian first name. And we were like, let's just make it easy and give him an English name. So everybody decided on Jacob. But she was like my son's name is Ibukunoluwa. And your name means blessing from God. Do you think mommy made the right choice in naming you?
IBUKUN: Well, I like my name but not really other people do.
MITCHELL: Wait, what do you mean?
IBUKUN: Oh, well, they just make fun of it.
MITCHELL: But would you want us to change it?
MITCHELL: With your name, just anything in life, if she had an opinion, she wasn't going to back down.
Well, Ibukun, this is the longest conversation we've had about mommy, so if there's anything you ever wanted to ask...
IBUKUN: I can ask it now?
IBUKUN: OK, what was your favorite memory of mommy?
MITCHELL: I have a lot. I remember, I was like 10, I was in fourth grade. Wait, how old are you?
IBUKUN: I skipped kindergarten so...
MITCHELL: Well, excuse me.
MITCHELL: She was a nurse. She worked the night shift, and so she came home really late. I, like, came over and I took off her shoes and I gave her a foot massage. I remember she was telling the person on the phone how nurturing I was. And now I'm a teacher. And, like, any time somebody's like oh, why are you a teacher? I'm like I'm nurturing (laughter). That's exactly what mommy said about me.
IBUKUN: Well, I feel a little depressed that she's not here to say what she wants to say about me.
MITCHELL: She'd probably just be standing back, nodding her head, being like I did that. I did that.
MITCHELL: You're like a little piece mommy on Earth. So I just want you to really understand who you are and where you come from.
INSKEEP: That's Alice Mitchell (ph) with her 10-year-old brother Ibukun Owolabi in New York. Their conversation will be archived in the Library of Congress. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.