Fourth of July was the holiday that hurt most.

A busy Cracker Barrel. My family sits at a large table. My mother on my left. My wife on my right. My sister across from me. Her two children. My brother-in-law, and my mother’s boyfriend.

That’s a lot of people. Don’t make me count them all.

Long ago, there were only three of us. My mother, my baby sister, and twelve-year-old me. Back then I didn’t know what we were. Whatever it was, it didn’t feel complete.

I’ll never forget when the church had “Family Fun Fair” on the Fourth of July. I begged my mother not to attend because, I kept telling her, we weren’t a “true family.” Not since my father had died.

I could tell this hurt her. But I meant it. When people looked at us, I could practically feel pity leaking from their eyes. And pity sucks.

Family Fun Fair was reserved for real families. The kind who had a living father, a mother, two-point-five kids, a dog, a riding lawnmower in the garage, and a Kitchenaid mixer.

We did not have these things. We had a push mower that leaked oil. And my mother’s cheap handheld mixer was basically a gasoline engine with beaters.

Fourth of July was the holiday that hurt most.

That was the holiday when American families would swarm together like honeybees. They would park their cars on the curbs, throw loud barbecues, laugh too much, and holler.

My friend Jackson, for instance, had nearly forty people at his family reunion. They participated in something they called “Boat Day.”

Who ever heard of Boat Day? How ridiculous, I thought. Everyone in his family would crawl into their respective boats and cruise in circles, water-skiing, shouting, and carrying on like they were the happiest clowns you ever saw.

Gag me with an outboard prop.

Even so, my mother did not leave it up for debate. We were going to Family Fun Fair, by God, and that was that.

When we showed up, I had a bad attitude. The last thing I wanted was to sit on a blanket and watch other kids play catch with their fathers. Furthermore, I didn’t want sympathy from onlookers.

I don’t know why I am telling you this.

My mother made me eat fried chicken, and drink lemonade, and wear a plastic smile. And to make matters worse, she brought two baseball gloves.

My mother is left-handed, but somehow, through means that still remain unclear to me, she had located a left-hander’s glove that actually fit her.

She placed it on her hand.

“Where’d you get that?” I said.

“None of your business,” she said, punching her mitt.

“You can’t be serious.”

“As a heart attack.”

“Mothers don’t play baseball.”

“Mothers whose sons are sourpusses don’t.”

“Put that glove away, someone might see you.”

“Know what? If you won’t play catch, I think I’ll wear this glove for a hat.”

“Stop it.”

“Isn’t this a nice hat? Does it make me look sophisticated?”

“Okay, I’ll play.”

There on the church lawn, before God and country, my mother wore a left-hander’s glove and shouted, “Throw the heat!” And against my will, we played catch.

Family Fun Fair turned out to be nice. There were games, gunny sack races, music, food, and impromptu tackle football. I’m not sorry we went.

Afterward, my mother said nothing on the ride home until we pulled into the driveway. She shut off the car, then stared at me for a long time.

“Don’t you ever say we’re not a family again,” she said. “Do you hear me?”

I heard her.

Here at the restaurant, with her beside me, and the rest of us in one place, I understand things I wish I would’ve known back then.

Today, there are eight people at our table. Eight. That’s only one person shy of a baseball team. How did this happen? Once we were small; now we are medium small.

My mother looks at me and says, “What’re you thinking?”

To tell the truth, I don’t know what I am thinking. I guess I’m taking it all in. I’m thinking about lots of things. About the few gray whiskers I found in my beard this morning. I’m thinking about how beautiful my kid sister has become, and how her two children make life feel new again.

And I’m thinking about how I was wrong about us, long ago. We are a family. The truest kind there is.

A broken one.

But held together by the strong arm of a left-handed baseball player.

39 comments

  1. Penn Wells - May 15, 2019 6:54 am

    Yes.

    Reply
  2. Camille - May 15, 2019 10:18 am

    Every mother’s dream is a tribute like yours~

    Reply
  3. Elizabeth - May 15, 2019 10:25 am

    Dang, my eyes are watering again, dang mold!

    Reply
  4. Jean - May 15, 2019 10:26 am

    Your mother sounds like one fabulous southern mama!!

    Reply
  5. Elizabeth - May 15, 2019 10:27 am

    Didn’t see that curve ball coming! Thank you!

    Reply
  6. Karen - May 15, 2019 10:28 am

    I remember when my daughter’s husband died. Her three year old son wanted to fly a kite. We went to the park and she read the instructions on the package, and she got that kite put together. She ran out into a field, 6 months pregnant, pulling the kite behind her, and that paper dragon went soaring into the air. That’s when I knew they were going to be ok. Because of her strength.
    Her three year old son will be sixteen this summer, and her daughter will be 12 this week. There have been ball games, camp outs, pine car derbies, and banquets where they had to be a fatherless family.
    Her son is tall and handsome. He plays soccer, football, and cello. He wants to be an oral surgeon. Her daughter is a beauty with a huge heart – an artist who was just recognized as the most outstanding student in her grade level.
    My daughter has a new man in her life and another three year old son. When I read about your mother, I think of her. She would not give in.
    Thank you, Sean.

    Reply
  7. Nell Thomas - May 15, 2019 10:35 am

    Glad you ended up enjoying the picnic.
    I bet your mom get some attention that day pitching the ball to you. It was probably not her first time- maybe something she had not in a long time. Some things just stick with you. Would be interesting to know her baseball history.
    My dad taught me how to throw a football- spiral.
    Not that I was ever a pro but never forgot the general technique.
    It paid off years later when I picked up a football and spiraled it at my grandson. I think he was quite impressed. My daughter later told me what he said: ” I didn’ t know Me-mow knew how to throw a football.”
    Great story. Thanks.

    Reply
  8. Jan - May 15, 2019 11:16 am

    I once was the mother part of a broken family. It was just my son & I against the world. We have grown to be a family of 11. The funny thing is that I now realize families come in all sizes and shapes. Sometimes they are not even biologically related. They choose to be a family. God loves all kinds of people and all kinds of families.

    Reply
  9. Naomi - May 15, 2019 11:29 am

    It’s not only the death of a parent that causes this kind of hole in your heart. My husband filed for divorce when our children were 7 & 10. He did not want to be burdened down with children and there was no way that I could explain to my children that their father didn’t care about them and also refused to pay child support. I did not talk to them about this but I had to be both mother and father. I had to teach them how to ride a bike, how to swim and everything else a father should be teaching their children. I even had to teach my son how to tie a tie. Their father didn’t turn up for his son’s Bar Mitzvah until after it was over; he wasn’t at his son’s graduation from high school because he had moved to Israel. He was back in the states when our daughter graduated from high school but arrived late. He remarried and supported his new wife’s 3 sons but still did not support his own. He died of cancer when he was 51 so he was not there to walk his daughter down the aisle when she got married. I still never put my ex husband down. I had to let my children find out for themselves when they got old enough; there was nothing they could do about the situation when they were children.

    Reply
  10. Jess in Athens, GA - May 15, 2019 11:42 am

    Sean, when you wrote about your mother and the left-handed glove it brought back the memory of when I was a kid and I didn’t have a left-handed glove. I’d put one of my brothers’ right-handed glove on my right hand and of course it was backwards and I’d play like that. A neighborhood kid my age that didn’t care whether I had a glove or not persuaded me to go with him to try out for a Little League ball team.

    Of course every kid that tried out was selected to be on a team…that was the rule. I was selected, but decided against playing since I didn’t have a left-handed glove and I couldn’t stand the embarrassment of being around other kids without a proper glove . The shame was too much for me.

    I survived my childhood without any significant, lingering problems, but it was difficult at times, I’ll tell ya that. Hey, problems as a kid can become our strengths as we grow into adults.

    Reply
  11. Thomas Bole - May 15, 2019 11:47 am

    So beautiful.

    Reply
  12. Amy - May 15, 2019 11:49 am

    I love every word of this post.

    Reply
  13. Joe Patterson - May 15, 2019 11:55 am

    Great article even though my mom and dad were divorced I always thought of us as a family because my mom was a rock just like yours

    Reply
  14. Dianne - May 15, 2019 12:11 pm

    Someone forwarded to me a column. I began following. I thoroughly enjoy your writings, and now I am the one who forwards your posts. They usually bring a tear to my eyes.

    Reply
  15. Martha Flemister - May 15, 2019 12:19 pm

    This post today is especially heart warming. I know your mother is proud of you and I am happy that your mom has a boyfriend. Everyone needs someone in their life to love and be loved by. I know, I have been single and its a tough road. Keep on posting and loving your family. Fondly, Martha

    Reply
  16. Edna B. - May 15, 2019 12:23 pm

    Families can be different and still be families. They don’t all have two parents, and some of them aren’t even all biological related, but they are family. Wonderful story Sean, hugs, Edna B.

    Reply
  17. Lydia - May 15, 2019 12:24 pm

    I LOVE this one!

    Reply
  18. Shelton A. - May 15, 2019 1:02 pm

    It’s hard to see ‘family’ when things feel broken, but you were a family…and how cheap can you get for not bringing Jamie! Sorry, that just had to come out. Then you would have had nine and played baseball too. Glad your Mom set you straight.

    Reply
    • Robert Chiles - May 16, 2019 3:41 pm

      reread. Jamie was sitting to his right.

      Reply
  19. Beki - May 15, 2019 1:04 pm

    Thank you Sean!! As the mom who gets to throw the football, catch the heat, play him in HORSE, practice baton hand offs in track and all those other things his Dad doesn’t, I read this and held on to the hope that it’s a-ok that our family is complete with two. Today I get the privilege of attending his high school’s academic award assembly and seeing him receive awards for his academic ability as well. I am blessed! Thanks for the reminder!!

    Reply
  20. Teresa Tindle - May 15, 2019 1:09 pm

    What a true treasure you are to your Mother. I hope my two sons feel the same about me. I raised my two boys by myself. Their dad shot himself when they were 12 and 8. Their names are Shawn and Jason. Your post made me remember a time I went to a father-son dinner with my Shawn. I was the only women there. What a wonderful time we had.

    Reply
  21. Mary - May 15, 2019 1:32 pm

    LOVE your mom’s “hat threat”…I want to meet your mom. She sounds like one awesome lady!

    Reply
  22. Steve Winfield - May 15, 2019 2:14 pm

    THE ONLY WAY I COULD COMMENT WAS TO REPLY. ??
    I so feel you, Sean. Mom left dad, my brother & I when I was 5. Dad never re-married so it was always the 3 of us. Any activity that required a mom for us it was grandma, my aunt, or our nanny, Ms. Champion. She was a widow hired to live with us. She was absolutely gold, but wasn’t “mom”. I’m 58 now & the only one of us left. At 18 mom found me & we became great friends for the rest of her life. I’m very thankful for that but the 13 years that she wasn’t there remains. Dad was great at being both parents & my brother & I had it very good. Dad worked a lot but made plenty of time for us.
    I just felt that I needed to tell you that I understand completely.
    Love, Steve

    Reply
  23. Barbara Pope - May 15, 2019 3:17 pm

    You should write a screenplay of your mother’s life for the Hallmark Channel–what a character!

    Reply
  24. Jack Darnell - May 15, 2019 3:21 pm

    And that dude, is what REAL mamas do. Keep the family together! Of course you know it better than I, one of our favorites was called Lefty! Love it!

    Reply
  25. Linda Moon - May 15, 2019 4:45 pm

    You may be broken, but not terminal. Blend all those folks together and a delicious Smoothie Family can be wonderful …. blended from broken up ‘chunks of people’ and ice and fruit and whatever else you like! Enjoy!

    Reply
  26. Ala Red Clay Girl - May 15, 2019 4:56 pm

    When I was growing up I wanted to have a “normal” family like all my friends. However I was blessed to have a strong mama that helped keep my life together. Years later I discovered that some of those “normal” families were not all that normal after all.

    Reply
  27. Cathy M - May 15, 2019 5:05 pm

    Well, it’s taken me five minutes to pull myself together . This is the best of all of your efforts and that says a lot.

    Reply
  28. Bream Gravlee - May 15, 2019 5:38 pm

    You hit the mark on this one. Your mother gave you some wisdom that stuck with you and you got to see it bloom.😊

    Reply
  29. Janet Mary Lee - May 15, 2019 7:02 pm

    ANOTHER of my absolute favorites!! What a Blessing your Mom is! Hope you saved a few scraps for the pups!!

    Reply
  30. MaryJane Breaux - May 15, 2019 7:51 pm

    Beautiful, as a single Momma this touches my heart. Thank you Sean.

    Reply
  31. Shannon Shelton Brown - May 15, 2019 8:31 pm

    No words to describe the beauty (and bounty) in today’s essay.

    Reply
  32. Connie Havard Ryland - May 15, 2019 8:39 pm

    Beautiful. Moms are tough because we have to be. When your husband leaves, for whatever reason, your family is fractured. But it’s up to Mom to keep it from breaking. It takes time, but we do what has to be done, all while hiding a broken heart. My family is not huge but I got the last one grown and married and in college. I still can’t breathe, quite yet, but I’m getting there. And my daughters and various other women in my circle can see that not only did I survive, I thrived and so did they. Love and hugs to your mom today. She sounds like an amazing woman.

    Reply
  33. Brenda - May 16, 2019 9:53 am

    Beautiful

    Reply
  34. April - May 16, 2019 11:05 pm

    Wow! When we think they can’t get any better! Wonderful tribute to your amazing mother; can only imagine how proud she is of the man you became. Thank you for sharing!

    Reply
  35. Charaleen Wright - May 17, 2019 5:53 am

    Reply
  36. Anne Godwin - May 20, 2019 3:16 pm

    I LOVE your Mom…

    Reply
  37. Janie F. - June 14, 2019 11:29 am

    I never thought my family was normal either. My parents divorced when I was 5, mother remarried when I was 6. Suddenly my little brother & I had a new daddy, two new sisters and two new brothers. For 10 years life was wonderful & awful. Then our parents divorced again but I kept that daddy & those brothers & sisters and they kept me. Sometimes I wonder if anyone thinks their family is normal. I wouldn’t trade mine for anything, they are my people.

    Reply
  38. Sam Seetin - June 15, 2019 5:15 pm

    Sister Sue, your mom, although left handed who throws a baseball like a girl is the glue that holds the not so broken family together. Uncle ambidextrous Sam, I am…, now a free agent, volunteers to pinch hit for the team.

    Reply

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