In my memory it was sunny. I was driving my mother-in-law’s Hyundai through morning traffic. Mary, my mother-in-law, was in the passenger seat.
I flipped on my left blinker and switched lanes.
“You’re changing lanes?” said Mary. “My God. Are you trying to get us killed?”
Mother Mary, one of the nation’s leading backseat drivers.
“Slow down! Crime in Italy, are you trying to wreck?”
We had left early that morning. I was carrying Mother Mary to her medical appointment in Pensacola. She had infusion therapy regularly, which took place in a sterile room with cushy recliners and patients with tubes in their arms. These were not joyous rooms. These were rooms that would break your heart.
Our long-standing tradition after these dreary appointments was to go out for barbecue.
When we arrived at the medical complex, I helped Mary out of the car and we shuffled across the parking lot, arm in arm. Me, a guy with clown-curly hair and lanky legs. Her, white-haired and arthritic, gripping me for support.
“Don’t walk so fast,” she said, squeezing my arm tighter. “Are you trying to drag me on the pavement?”
We passed through the automatic doors, and when we approached the receptionist Mary dinged the desk bell. We signed in and within moments Mary was seated in that big recliner with the depressing tube snaking from her arm.
Soon, she was reading one of her paperback romance novels with the bodice-ripping covers. She was playing it cool, but I think it was one of the first times I realized how truly frail this woman was becoming.
The nurses told me to get lost for a few hours.
“Don’t forget our barbecue date,” Mary called out before I left.
When I returned, I found Mary waiting in a wheelchair at the hospital’s double doors. Mary was depleted, eyes heavy, but she was putting on a great show for her small audience of nurses who obviously thought she was funnier than Zeppo Marx.
I helped her into the front seat and I could tell she was weakened.
“I suwannee,” she said, wheezing badly, “are you gonna hurry up and feed me barbecue, or are you gonna make me eat these twenty-year-old club crackers in my pocketbook?”
“Which restaurant, Miss Daisy?” I asked.
“Don’t care. Just feed me or I’m gonna turn into that girl from ‘The Exorcist.’”
“I’ve never seen that movie.”
“Well, get ready. You’re about to.”
We found ourselves at a barbecue joint. We walked through the front door and were immediately greeted with a huge lunch crowd. The single-file line was about 29 miles long and the hostess said it was an hour wait.
Mary leaned onto me for support. “Oh, no,” she said. “This’ll take all afternoon.”
I glanced at my watch. “Let’s go somewhere else, somewhere less crowded.”
But Mother Mary ignored me. Instead she started to speak in her loud stage voice. “Oh, but my knees hurt so bad. Oooh, they ache. We can’t leave, I was looking forward to delicious barbecue.”
“Why’re you talking so loud?” I said.
“Oh, the pain.”
“Pain? But you were fine a few seconds ago.”
“Oh, the humanity.”
People noticed us immediately. One guy asked if we wanted to cut in line. We did. But Mary was just getting warmed up. After another moment, Mother Mary cued the Broadway voice again. She spoke loudly:
“Remember that hip replacement surgery I had? Mercy, I wouldn’t wish that procedure on my worst enemy. Feels like a knife is stabbing me from the inside. Ahhh. Ooohhh. My poor hip.”
A young couple turned and asked if we wanted to cut in line again.
“You’re too kind,” said Mary.
A couple minutes later, Mary’s Oscar-winning voice sounded once more.
“Ahhh. Ooohhh. I need to take my medicine, but I can’t take my pills on an empty stomach. Aaaahhh. What ever will I do?”
That was all it took.
An employee beckoned us to the front of the line then led us to a table, bypassing the wait. I glanced behind me to see a gaggle of customers who all wore looks of sympathy and compassion as we walked by. One guy was even dabbing his eyes.
Mary followed the young employee through the dining room, but briefly turned to wink at me.
When we sat at our table, it was miraculous, Mary’s pain vanished. In fact, she practically hopscotched to the bathroom. No traces of osteoarthritic knees or titanium-hip discomfort.
After lunch, we sat at that two-top for hours, chewing the fat and jawing, with no particular schedule to keep. We laughed a lot. And I remember thinking that this was one of those beautifully ordinary days that I would probably remember forever.
When we left, we shuffled through the parking lot. I buckled her into the seat where she slept for the ride home. Mouth open. Hands folded on her lap. And now, as she lies in her hospice bed, I just want her to know how lucky I was to have her as my backseat driver.
MermaidGrammy - July 30, 2021 6:58 am
Thank you from all the mothers-in-law who don’t have a Sean. Mother Mary knows you love and respect her. You are helping her and Jamie through this difficult journey. Bless you!
Steve McCaleb - July 30, 2021 7:05 am
Sometimes ordinary days turn out to be the ones you remember forever. That’s why we need to remember that NO day is ordinary or humdrum. They’re all precious and special in their own way. We just have to look hard enough to figure out how. Wonderful story….beautifully told. Thank you my friend.
Molly - July 30, 2021 9:41 am
Barbara - July 30, 2021 10:20 am
Yes, what MermaidGrammy said. Thank you for preserving and sharing a day in the life with Mother Mary. What a sweet & hilarious relationship between you two lovable characters. Prayers for you all. 🙏❤️
Janie Gentry - July 30, 2021 10:41 am
Every time you write about Mother Mary makes me love her, and you, more. My heart is with your family today as we bury my brother-in-law who was diagnosed with cancer three weeks ago.
stephenpe - July 30, 2021 10:43 am
Like you, I had a mother in law who impacted my life in a million positive ways. She was a nurse for many years and served right behind the front lines in Europe during WW2. In fact she outranked her husband who was finally captured and in a POW camp. She raised three kids that ended up with 6 college degrees. And she took me in when I became her youngests boyfriend. She did everything for her kids and husband. Worked at the PO with him, helped with his farming and cooked and cleaned like a chef and Mini Maid. Her mustard greens were like dessert. Her pound cake was like crack. She loved me like a mom and did so much for me I cry a little when I think about her. In her last days I stayed overnight in the hospital and she said “steve give me a razor blade to end it. I cannot do anything I used to do” I dont think I ever loved anyone more than her. Emma Lee was her name. From Cherry Sink,.
Paula Massey - July 30, 2021 11:20 am
Karen - July 30, 2021 11:23 am
I wish everyone could have a Mother Mary in their lives. Thank you for sharing her with us.
Tammy S. - July 30, 2021 11:24 am
Praying for you all, especially Jamie & you. Time is such a thief. It always goes too fast. I had the most amazing father-in-law, and miss him so. And it is an honor to love and take care of his beloved wife, my precious Mother-in-law, who has always made me feel more like a daughter she never had. What a blessing to be loved and to love. And we know Mother Mary adores you!! Blessings and prayers!
Gina - July 30, 2021 11:56 am
These are wonderful tribute pieces, Sean. Jamie will cherish them. Love to you all.
Lana - July 30, 2021 11:57 am
Thank you for sharing. I know this is a very difficult time for y’all. My mother passed spring 2019 from a long time illness. You really do know how to make us laugh even in sad or tough times. I have to say I did throw back my head and laugh a couple of times with this story.
Samantha - July 30, 2021 12:00 pm
Grace and peace. She knows.
Brenda Davis - July 30, 2021 12:21 pm
Just beautiful! I’ve had three ladies in my life who were and are the same as your mother in law !! I feel the love !!
Suellen - July 30, 2021 12:35 pm
Your Mother Mary is a corker. I’m sure that makes it harder when you see her fading away. My Dad always said Crime in Italy but I didn’t know that’s what he was saying. He always said it as one word. crymenitly. So I’ve learned something today. Well, several somethings. I learned to savor the ordinary things too because they won’t last forever.
Karen Snyder - July 30, 2021 12:44 pm
She might argue that she’s been the luckiest of all. God bless. ❤️
Vivian Mina - July 30, 2021 12:44 pm
It is so sweet of you to take your mother in law to take her treatment and then also take her out to lunch. God bless you.
Gayle - July 30, 2021 12:45 pm
you and your Mother-in Law make me happy with your love for one another
Dean - July 30, 2021 12:46 pm
Great column as always. So glad you have such great memories of her. She sounded like so much fun
Ann Hunter - July 30, 2021 12:54 pm
I love, love reading about mother Mary. She’s such a character and you have so much love for her. I’m elderly, and I pray that one day my son or son in law will love me that much.
Mary Guenther - July 30, 2021 1:06 pm
Terry - July 30, 2021 1:07 pm
Mother Mary stories are my favorite! I love the one when you both were watching tv and her comment about a sexy guy. ‘ I could sop him up with a biscuit’. Jamie is blessed to be raised by such a beautiful woman 💓. You Sean are also blessed to have been welcomed into her family.
Linda Horne - July 30, 2021 1:17 pm
My mother passed away last May during the pandemic. My family and I cared for her the last month of her life choosing to keep her at home where she was familiar with things. How I wish I had been able to read your posts about your Morher-In-Law then . They would have made me smile and cherish the memories of my sweet Mother even more. What wonderful memories you have of a special Mother-In-Law. I know they will help mend some that hole in your heart. My memories have helped mend my hole some but it is more like putting mesh over it. The grief still seeps out at times.
Prayers for you and your sweet wife that you look with joy at the life she gave y’all. I am sure she was such an important part of the people you are today.
One who grieves too and tempers that grief with smiles reliving the memories!!
Lisa - July 30, 2021 1:20 pm
Sean, I always love reading your work but this week I’m thankful to be on this journey with you. My dad passed away last month. None of the family even had time to get to the hospital, so it was just me, the most merciful doctor on the planet, and an angel of a nurse that squalled with me. Mother Mary is a wonderful lady and we’ve all grown to love her through your stories. Our prayers & love are with you and Jamie, but our thoughts are relishing in the sweet memories you’re sharing during this time about Mother Mary, and our own bbq queens.
Mm Tiller - July 30, 2021 1:22 pm
Yes, truly “lucky”. Thank you for remembering.
baysmountainman - July 30, 2021 1:39 pm
Really appreciate your writing skills.
Jacqueline H. Knight - July 30, 2021 1:53 pm
What a loving a touching memory and tribute. Thank you for sharing this memory. Peace and prayers to Mother Mary, and the whole family.
Gordon - July 30, 2021 2:04 pm
Such a wonderful memory of your time with Mother Mary. Blessings and prayers to you and Jaime as you navigate these trying days.
Glenda Busby-Fowler Hinkle - July 30, 2021 2:10 pm
Sean and Jamie, how much longer can this heavy pain and sadness go on, you might ask? And, just about the time you both scream that you can’t take it anymore, Sweet Mary will pass. And, for a brief moment you will be thankful and feel so relieved. Then, you will hate yourselves for having that selfish feeling of wanting it over for years to come. Don’t. These are all natural feelings we ALL go through and please don’t allow yourself to feel guilty. You are now entering what I call the “valley of the shadow of death.” The grieving process is a very strange occurrence and a part of life. Best advice I can give you is to be kind to one another and yourselves, too. Lower your expectations and take one moment at a time. You are just learning to live a different life now. And, remember, it is perfectly OK to have a “come apart” while standing in front of the meat cooler at Piggly Wiggly.
Eleanor Dietrich - July 30, 2021 2:20 pm
A wonderful combination of humor and sentiment, very touching.
Christina - July 30, 2021 2:24 pm
What a character Mother Mary is! Sending love to your hilarious backseat driver💜
Becky Fuller - July 30, 2021 2:59 pm
Watching a loved one transition is the hardest thing l’ve ever had to do. As you are doing, remembering and voicing the experiences you’ve shared helps. Nothing makes the jagged edges of the hole that is slowly opening in your heart any better but time and distance. May Mother Mary rest softly and easily. Namaste.
AlaRedClayGirl - July 30, 2021 2:59 pm
Loved this story. Have you ever considered compiling your Mother Mary stories into a book? Blessings on you all today!
CHARALEEN WRIGHT - July 30, 2021 3:21 pm
Carol Watson - July 30, 2021 4:12 pm
Still praying for comfort for Ms Mary but especially for you and Jamie, thanks for sharing your memories with us, I love reading every single word, they make laugh , sometimes cry but always moving. Prays & hugs !
ladyjane48 - July 30, 2021 4:24 pm
Prayers for you all
Deb Becker - July 30, 2021 4:27 pm
Your love for your mother-in-law is so precious. I know you realize how lucky you are and hope she knows how very lucky she is to have you too. My husband passed away in November and your columns about hospice and caregiving are pulling my heart right out of my chest, but also touch my heart in a very special way. Love and prayers for you, your wife and Mother Mary
Janice Greenwood - July 30, 2021 4:33 pm
Sean, my friend Becky Robertson invited you, Jamie, and your dogs to the Epes BBQ on September 9th. I hope you all will come. She has a lovely home where you will be welcome and have all the privacy you want. Becky first introduced you to me about a year ago and I’ve been a fan ever since. But Becky is a super fan. We met you and Jamie in Meridian MS before the pandemic. I’m sure you won’t remember but she is the petite one. I asked if you could speak at my church but then COVID…
Any way you both are caring for Miss Mary now and probably can’t make plans. But if you decide you can get away for a few days, Epes AL is very near paradise.
If you are up to talking to a bunch of Presbyterians, let me know your fee. If not, come to the BBQ anyway and let us hug you.
Joe Fowler - July 30, 2021 4:39 pm
Great summation. Take my sister and after treatment we get food. Usually BBQ. The good days are precious. The bad days are still days
Linda Freeman - July 30, 2021 5:34 pm
Sean, I did NOT realize that my elderly mother had a clone! Bless their hearts and pass the sweet tea.
dawn ritz - July 30, 2021 5:41 pm
So many great memories with this wonderful lady! Thank you for sharing her with us!!
Bill Harris - July 30, 2021 5:54 pm
Thank you Sean. Even though this made me tear up, it made me smile at the same time.
Penn Wells - July 30, 2021 7:14 pm
This reminds me so much of my mom’s last days. I would leave work early and rush to be by her side and hold her hand. I couldn’t get there fast enough. And then, the minute I walked through I thought I would be nauseous, the realization of what was happening was just… overwhelming. Life – and death – so much more ephemeral than we realize until we are in the middle of it. I don’t wish the experience on anyone… and yet… we’ll, we all react differently, don’t we?
MAM - July 30, 2021 8:54 pm
I am loving the Mother Mary stories, especially the way you, Sean, so lovingly tell them.
Linda Moon - July 30, 2021 9:25 pm
Earlier today I was with a wonderful oncologist, a roomful of brave warriors, and a former student who regularly administers shots to my backside there in the infusion room. I thought about Mother Mary while I was there….and just now I found her in this memory of your mother-in-law in a sterile infusion room. Oh my. These rooms don’t always break my heart because there is hope for us patients given by Angels disguised as nurses. After my appointment today, I went out to get Godiva Chocolate. You were very blessed to be driving Mother Mary, Hoke. Always remember that.
Linda - July 31, 2021 1:37 am
Shirley Jensen - July 31, 2021 2:00 am
Marci Welker - July 31, 2021 2:34 am
My Mother always said crimanitly when annoyed. Is it supposed to be crime of Italy? If so, what was the crime? Ask your Mother in law, please. If she doesn’t know, maybe one of your readers does.
Heidi - July 31, 2021 3:02 am
And your best date ever….except for maybe her daughter. Oh Mother Mary, what a true treasure you are.
Faye Hutt - July 31, 2021 3:16 am
Oh, Sean! 😇 💕
G@ry - July 31, 2021 10:55 am
Reminds me so much of current experiences with my Mother. Though I drive five hours to drive her to doctor appointments, I will treasure those days even more.
Joan Moore - July 31, 2021 10:55 am
Please give her a huge bear hug from one of her fans.Love to Jamie
Stacey Wallace - July 31, 2021 11:08 pm
Love me some Mother Mary. Love and prayers.
LAURA McAliley - August 1, 2021 3:46 am
Beautifully written, Sean. You’re a good boy.