WACHS: Do like one-time ‘Bama coach said to do


The late Paul “Bear” Bryant was famous for a number of things.

His University of Alabama Crimson Tide football teams made a habit for years of beating up on about every school they played. He was famous for the hound’s-tooth hat he wore come rain or shine. And a story went around for awhile that after he died, his widow moved to Chapel Hill so she could get as far away from big-time college football as she could.

But in his later years, he was famous for something else — a television commercial for AT&T or BellSouth or Bonlee Telephone or some other communication giant, most of which are now swallowed up by some conglomerate or another in the mad belief that bigger is better and if you’re bigger you can invent and sell a telephone that also takes pictures, peels potatoes, blows your nose and plays mumbly-peg without a knife all while making a call to the wrong number but letting you leave a message, text or pint of blood all at the same time.

As I remember, the commercial ended showing the Legend in his hat and Crimson sweater staring at the camera and holding a telephone out toward it with the somewhat gruff command, “Call your mama.” It was, of course, a play to use the phone to call ones mother and, again as I remember, it ran somewhere before, during and after Mother’s Day.

It’s not Mother’s Day just yet but it’s close and I’m thinking about mine. And I wish I could call — or see — her.

She’s been gone for more than 20 years. She’d be 106 if she were still around, other than in my heart and mind, although in her later years she swore (not literally) that she was born in 1917 and not in 1918.

Whatever it was, she was always there … until she wasn’t.

My first recollection of her was somewhere around my fourth or fifth year. The reason I know this is because we were still living in Apex and at that time it was still a railroad town. Hearing the wail of the train whistles is as far back as my memory can go and we moved from there around 1953 so I did the math and figured I must have been four or five.

The years after we moved to Pittsboro have now turned into a blur but I know my mama was always there. She read me Bible stories and washed my clothes in the old wringer washer in the basement and soothed my hurt hand and feelings after I stuck my fingers through the rollers one day despite her repeated daily warnings not to do that.

She made the cakes and pies I consumed in large quantities, those very same treats that helped me create the pear-shaped physique I enjoy today. She gave me dimes to go to Sam White’s store to buy Milky Ways that we shared and when there were no cakes or pies or dimes she poured Grandma’s unsulphered molasses into cold milk for our dessert.

She helped me learn about family. She had a couple of dozen brothers and sisters, or so it seemed. I remember going from house to house in Bynum, where most of them lived, on Sundays and wherever we were at suppertime is where we ate. Sometimes that meant adding a cup of water to the soup but we never went hungry and we learned who we were and who our kin was.

She stayed home with me when I had the mumps and measles and flu. When that latter illness struck she’d put me into her big bed, pile up pillows, turn on her beside radio, bring in my comic books and feed — and pamper — me back to health. Truth be told, that was a time when I didn’t mind being sick.

Funny now that I think about it but she never did take in many of the school athletic events I was in. One reason was there weren’t that many and by the time I turned 16 and could drive, at least legally, I decided sports wasn’t going to be my ticket to success nearly as much as a job at Dave Roberts’s soda shop or Dan McCrimmon’s drug store. But, as I remember, she took in the band and glee club things I did and always had, shall we say, a keen interest in my report cards.

Later as we both aged, we had a few “discussions” from time to time, mainly about my life and choices. When some conversations grew louder than others, my dad would pull out his harmonica and perform a rousing rendition of “There’s No Place Like Home.” I never knew if he was suing for peace or trying to be funny.

She loved to ask me how much money I was making on the current job and I’d always ask her why she wanted to know. “I don’t want any of it,” she’d reply, “but there’s nobody who has your welfare at heart any more than I do.”

I didn’t always live close to her geographically but always did in my heart. After a few years here and there bouncing around such exotic places as Asheboro and Apex (again) and the south-central Virginia village of Meherrin, I wound up close by her. That gave me the opportunity to sort of look after her in her later years, sort of like she looked after me. Sometimes I’d watch her sleep in her nursing home bed, all small and bent as she was then, and wonder how many times she’d watched over me just like that.

She made it five years after leaving her house and flowers and cats. I’d see her about eight days a week. The last time we spoke she was bedridden. I stayed awhile on a Sunday, then had to leave. As I got close to her ear so she could hear I said, “Mama, I’ve got to go but I love you and I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Okay,” she said, and then added some memorable words when she said, “and if you see Bob tell him to come see me.”

“I will, Mama. If I see that sorry rascal I’ll tell him to get over here and see you.”

Today, I have her purse just like she handed it to me that day years ago. I don’t know what to do with it. I can’t throw it away. It’s got her wallet, maybe $35 or $40. But it’s got more than the money. There are the pictures of my dad, her children and daughters-in-law and their children and the notes about the high temperature and what she needed at the Piggly Wiggly.

I’d much rather have her than that.

And if you still have your mama, don’t wait until Mother’s Day. Do like Bear Bryant says: Pick up the phone; call your mama.

Better yet, if she’s close by go see her.