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'A Little Piece Of Mommy On Earth': The Gifts Their Late Mom Left Behind

Alice and Ibukun Owolabi, on a recent visit with StoryCorps.
Alice and Ibukun Owolabi, on a recent visit with StoryCorps.

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."

Rosemary Owolabi with her son Ibukun soon after he was born in September 2005.
/ Courtesy of the Owolabli family
Courtesy of the Owolabli family
Rosemary Owolabi with her son Ibukun soon after he was born in September 2005.

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

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Corrected: July 1, 2016 at 12:00 AM EDT
In an earlier version of this story, Ibukun Owolabi's last name was misspelled as Olowabi in a photo caption.
NPR Staff