My mama would be 103 years old if she were still with me.
Her birthday was this week — Tuesday, April 6, to be exact — but she wasn’t around to celebrate it with us.
I thought about her, partly because I do that fairly often and partly because my older brother often mentions her to me. Some years ago, when he was still on earth, Paul “Bear” Bryant, the late great University of Alabama football coach, starred in a television commercial for some phone company — AT&T, I think — in which he said at the end of the spot, “Pick up the phone. Call your mama.” My brother was fond of reminding me of that when we could do it.
I did that fairly often in the years after I left home, even and especially after she spent the last five years of her life in a care facility.
Brother often talked about her kitchen skills and we wondered if any of her recipes were floating around our place. There are a few here and there; his grown daughter has a number of them; and still others are with me, mainly around my waist, where mama put them years ago.
Mama could cook. She had to be able to in an effort to feed three bottomless-pit sons and a hard-working husband, as well as herself, as well as the crowd of relatives who dropped by often. Then there were the neighbors who came over, as well as the friends we boys brought home from high school and college, as well as the families she fed when their luck got down or there was a death in their family.
That, of course, was not all she did. She was good at “sticking her nose in my business,” which was how I looked at it when I was 16 and 23 and even 30-plus. It wasn’t until I had some birthdays and my own experiences that I realized the truth of her words I often heard in such times — “nobody has your welfare at heart any more than me.”
That never stopped.
She was good at doing the “mama” things, which was the word I called her until her first-born grandchild declared that she was “Ma” and we all fell in line. There was never a doubt we (my brothers and I) were high on her priority list.
She cooked (I mentioned that, didn’t I?)
She washed my nasty clothes.
She ironed my shirts.
She kept the house going, when it was clean and when it needed cleaning.
She made me pick up rocks as she tilled the garden.
She made me do my homework and go to church and learn some manners and respect for folks, regardless of the color of their skin or their station in life. “Sir” and “ma’am” weren’t optional.
She left a big imprint on my life.
I miss her.
Sometimes in my quieter moments I wonder what she would think today ... and of today. Days when folks across the board aren’t all that “nice.” About her growing brood of great-grandchildren. About how her sons turned out. About this and about that.
Funny thing, she — who was so sharp, who became a licensed nurse after her brood became somewhat self-sufficient and independent, who always wanted to “paddle her own canoe” — became a bit confused in the last few months of her life. She began to tell us she was born in a different year from when she was. And the last time I spoke with her, she told me from her nursing home bed that, “If you see Bob, tell him to come see me.”
I assured her that “If I see that sorry rascal, I’ll tell him.”
Today isn’t “Mother’s Day” on the calendar, but if you’ve still got yours, it is.
Tell her so, even if you don’t think she’s all that great.
Without her, you wouldn’t be here.
Bob Wachs is a native of Chatham County and retired long-time managing editor of the Chatham News/Chatham Record, having written a weekly column for more than 30 years. During most of his time with the newspapers, he was also a bi-vocational pastor and today serves Bear Creek Baptist Church for the second time as pastor.
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