Today has been my beloved Mama’s sixtieth birthday. She completed her sixth decade in spite of fighting a terrible battle with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease or COPD that saw her hospitalized for two weeks with two bouts that left her very near death’s door. More than once, I thought I was going to lose her.
Anyone who has known me more than an hour will know how much Mama means to me. She has been the one guiding star and constant throughout my life. Some people take being called a “mama’s boy” as an insult, but I’ve worn it as a badge of pride all my days.
One facet of our relationship that’s made our bond so strong is for many years at many times, we were all each other had. Mama and Daddy separated when I was five and finalized the divorce when I was eight. Today, people don’t think much about divorces but at that time (1977) in such a small town, I was the only one of my friends who entered kindergarten with divorced parents. Of course, by the time we graduated high school, several of my friends joined me on the Split Up Family Express, and I found out later I’d gone to school with other divorced kids, but I didn’t know any of them as friends so it wasn’t a great help to me.
The divorce was hard — way hard — on Mama. People didn’t know nearly as much about depression and its effects in those days as they do now. I have an early memory of sitting on her lap with her sobbing uncontrollably and I put my hands up to her face and said, “I’ll take care of you, Mommy.” Today, 35 years later, when she has an anxiety attack and starts smothering, I still put my — now much bigger — hands around her face and say, “I’ll take care of you, Mommy.”
What a lot of people don’t understand about Mama and me is how much I’ve felt her sacrifice throughout my life. In the picture of us on this page, I’m in 5th grade so Mama would’ve been about 28, which isn’t too old to start over by any scale and as you can plainly see, she was a beautiful woman. She had numerous suitors vying for her affection, but she always brought me out immediately in the conversation and any man who balked hit the bricks. She had more than one man of wealth who would have loved to marry her and make her life much simpler and easy, but she always put me before herself and my happiness before hers so she never took that risk. Security was one of the wonderful gifts Mama gave me.
Of all the things Mama gave me, though, the greatest was her faith. Mama gave her life to the Lord when I was barely three and it guides her still. I have a crystal clear memory of being six years old. It was summer. We were in the first trailer Daddy and Mama had bought and put on the homeplace in Gray Court where Mama still lives. I was playing in the floor in the living room putting together Lego blocks and I heard Mama crying in her bedroom down the hall. Like I always did when I heard Mama crying, I went to be beside her, but when I got to her bedroom door something made me stop. Mama was kneeling at the foot of the bed with her head resting on an open bible, sobbing. Through the tears, I could make out one sentence over and over, “I can’t raise him alone; You have to help me. He belongs to You, not me.”
Folks, I’ll be as honest as I know how. I’ve done a multitude of things I won’t mention. I’ve been a terrible person. I’ve been drunk, high, and stoned out of my mind. I’ve hurt people and been hurt myself, but no matter where I’ve been; what I’ve been through, or what I’ve done, I’ve never been able to get that scene out of my mind. More than anything else in this entire messed up life of mine, the reason I believe there is a God, a man called Jesus, and a place called Heaven is they’ve lived in my mother’s eyes since I was three years old.
One day, maybe sooner, maybe later, I’ll stand beside a pink casket over an empty grave next to Papa John’s in Cannon Memorial Gardens. I’ll read the 23 Psalm and the 31st Chapter of Proverbs before I say a prayer for Mama’s soul, and while I am completely certain my heart will be broken into shards t0o many and too fine to number, I’ll have the knowledge that I will see her again. Until then, however, I’ll cherish every moment with her.
I love her. She’s my Mama.
Love all of you, too! Keep those feet clean.