The interstate is quiet this time of morning. A cattle truck just passed me.
“You Are My Sunshine” is on the radio. Johnny Cash is singing it. I cannot listen to this song without thinking of my mother—who used to sing it to me while I made mud pies in the backyard.
My daddy ended his life in September. By October Mama was so lonely you could hear her cry herself to sleep through the walls.
I’d knock on her bedroom door around suppertime. There would be no answer.
Thus, I would fire up the kitchen to prepare my world-famous culinary masterpiece: tres bowls de vanilla ice cream.
My mother was a shell. Once upon a time, she’d crocheted, quilted, gardened, she even fished. After Daddy, all she had left were overgrown flower beds and two kids.
She worked. Like a dog. To make ends meet, she cleaned condos, ran the deep-fryer at Chick-Fil-A, mopped floors, she threw the newspaper, volunteered at church. She raised kids.
When she got sick, the world fell apart.
Doctors didn’t know what was wrong. Whatever it was, it was killing her.
She moved in with my aunt and uncle in Atlanta. They took care of her. I visited when I could—which wasn’t enough.
One night, I made an all-night drive to Georgia. I arrived at my aunt’s at three in the morning. In the driveway: a frail woman in a nightgown stood in my headlights, waiting. I hardly recognized her.
We hugged and I almost broke her.
“Are you hungry?” was the first thing Mama asked.
She made a full breakfast anyway.
A plastic implanted port poked from her collarbone. Her face was gaunt. Her hair was short. She’d been spending weeks going to treatments, sitting in recliners at hospitals.
There, she’d crochet stocking caps, scarves, and mittens for her son. She sent them all with me when I left Atlanta.
On my drive home, I pulled over in a Shell gas station. I put on a stocking cap. It smelled like her, and it made me cry.
A policewoman knocked on my window. She was a small wiry woman. She asked if I was okay. I told her I was.
She asked if I’d been drinking.
I had not.
I ended up telling her the same story I just told you. A story about a woman who raised me. Who once sang “You Are My Sunshine” to a homely redhead baby.
The policewoman listened to me talk.
I will never forget that officer, nor the sweet way she said, “I’ll be praying for your mama.”
It’s been a long time since that night. I’ve gotten longer in the tooth, and my work keeps me busy.
But I’m grateful. Because today, the five-foot-two woman who brought me into this world is still here. And she looks good.
She spends her days in the sun, piddling. She grows things in her backyard dirt. And when we hug, I feel like I’m going to break her.
She makes me proud.
I just hope I still make her happy when skies are gray.
Happy Mother’s Day, Mama.