Big Old Boys

I saw him a few months ago, with his son, at a barbecue joint in Middle Alabama. A place that serves spicy pulled pork sandwiches big enough to qualify as real estate.

His son had grown even taller than his daddy, which is saying something. His daddy is no shorty. When I pumped the boy’s skillet-sized hand, It was hard not to feel like a river shrimp.

I remember when my wife used to babysit this freckle-face, he was no bigger than a Twinkie back then. Now, he’s a six-foot-seven man. Not a freckle on him.

His daddy and I suffered through the awkward Gosh-I-Dont-Know-How-We-Lost-Touch ritual — both of us exaggerating how busy we’ve been. When the truth is, some folks aren’t meant to be friends for more than a few summers. I asked how his wife was getting along.

He hung his head. “Well, you must’ve heard, Sylvia’s dying.”

You could’ve knocked me over with a stiff breeze.

Sylvia — which is not her name — is a woman in her mid-forties with white-blonde hair and a warm helping of personality. She led the Women’s Prayer Group. Because, you see, Sylvia is a Baptist more sincere than a locust-and-honey sandwich.

She’s no stranger to malignant things, either. She must’ve prayed for a million folks in her time. Sometimes her prayers whipped cancer into remission. Other times, not.

Her own fate; one of the latter instances.

“We prayed the Lord would heal her,” said her husband. “But, it’s been a long fight. Well… That is… When God takes her home…”

No sooner had he said it than his son buried his own head into his jacket. I tried not to stare at the boy while he choked on his tears. Besides, the kid’s a man now. It’s impolite to stare at a man who’s sobbing. Even though the fella is the size of a live oak tree.

After a few minutes, the boy sniffed and said, “I’m sorry I cried like that, sir.”

No you’re not, son.

Don’t be sorry. And next time, don’t stop crying until you’re good and ready. She’s your mama.

She deserves every ever-loving tear you’ve got.