Thursday, May 7, 2015

Mama--I Remember

Sunday is Mother's Day. And across the land florists will be busy and happy. Department stores will be flooded at the last minute--as will UPS. Greeting cards will hit an all time high. And streaming from mailboxes to Nursing Homes and apartments and condos and homes and even prisons--gifts will flow in their direction.

Ta Dah--it's Mother's Day. Memory stirs for many of us this week-end. We remember Mama. We might not sing: "M-is for the millions things she gave me..." But many, many of us will follow the trail of memory lane back through the years.

Mine began in a little four-room mill house. My father and mother, knee deep in the depression, fled the farm where they were starving for a better life in Columbus, Georgia. They lived in a three-room apartment with another couple. Then they graduated to three rooms of their own. Later they moved to a four room mill house across from the mill where they worked and where they would live for the rest of their lives. They had bare lights that hung down from the ceiling on a black twisted cords. They had an indoor toilet and running water. It was all they could dream for.

They had tried for years to have a baby--and no baby came. Finally--at long last--a baby stirred in my Mama's stomach. And so I was born in that little house one cool October morning. She named me Roger after Will Rogers who had died two months before in a plane crash. "Why did you name him Roger?" She said, "He makes me laugh."

She worked until her retirement in the mill across there street. During the war years she worked seven days a week. There was no air conditioning in that Georgia mill. Work was hard and pay was meagre. Thinking back I never heard my parents complain about their limited conditions. Maybe they remembered back to those hard days on the farm when they almost starved.

My  mother never was able to get past the eighth grade--she was needed for work at home. But it did not keep her from a mind that did not stop. She knew what was going on in the world. She read books--lots of books. The Book of the Month Club was a big deal in our house.

Did I appreciate those gnarled arthritic fingers that just kept working? Nah. Did I ponder never really having what she wanted because her two boys came first. Nah. She took her magic key and opened as much of the world as she knew for me. Church...books...friends...nice, clean clothes--safety and Sunday dinners, especially that couldn't be beat. She taught me values from her limited Southern Baptist background that stick to my 79 years.

She stood on the front porch that morning in September when I left for college. It must have broken her heart. She said nothing--then or ever about her pain. She just left the mill that morning, made sure my bags were packed.She stood on the front porch in her little print dress and waved goodbye. She knew what I didn't know that a chapter was ending--a chapter that would never be replayed.

Did I appreciate those packages of cakes and cookies that came to my college post office? Probably not enough. Did I ponder the sacrifice of that weekly fifteen dollars that came in the mail without fail to keep me in school. Nah.

I still see her on my graduation day from college--in that navy blue dress with the crocheted collar and the the big wide-brimmed blue hat. She was so proud and paid some relative good money to bring her to that graduation. We had no car.  She kept her hand over her mouth most of the time. You see her teeth were terrible and she did for us, her boys, instead of getting those teeth fixed. She never complained. Years later she finally got her false teeth--but by then she was near retirement.

She wrote letters faithfully telling me in great detail of the news and, of course, the neighborhood scandals. She never missed work and she never missed church and she never failed to provide clean clothes, good food or saying, over and over, "Son, it'll work out."

She left us in her eighties. Just went to bed and never woke up. I still remember the black lady that worked for us  standing at her casket. "Miss Ruth," she said, "you worked hard all yo' life. Hard. Now you just rest. You just rest." And she leaned over and kissed my Mama.

A great preacher left his church in Texas and moved to North Carolina. He had breakfast for years in a tiny coffee shop where everybody in that Texas town knew him. Years later one morning a waitress asked one of his friends, "Let me ask you something--is the preacher that used to come in here--still down at the church? I never see him  anymore." The wise friend paused and said, "Yes, he's still here."

My Mama's body may rest in a cemetery in my home town. But she's still here. She's still here.

--Roger Lovette /


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