The little girl talked too much. That’s what teachers said about her. On the first day of class, they moved her to the front of the room because of this.
It wasn’t that she wouldn’t stop talking. It was that she couldn’t. It was involuntary. A reflex. A superpower.
Her smile is another of her gifts. It’s a quirky smile passed down from her mother. Her mother had a lazy eye and saw double. Whenever her mother smiled for cameras, she tilted her head to correct her vision.
The little girl picked up this habit. Today, she can’t smile without leaning left.
She joined the workforce at age twelve, waiting tables. By her teenage years, she worked at a nursing home.
In high school, she met this fella. He was wild, he liked to party. His major hobbies included Budweiser and ice cream. And she loved him.
They would marry. And they would make a life for themselves. The young man would work labor jobs until he became a steelworker. She too, would put in long hours to pay bills.
In her early twenties, she was fed up with small paychecks. She wanted to go to school. It was an outlandish idea, but she enrolled anyway.
She passed her classes with flying colors. And when she finished her degree, she decided she wasn’t finished.
“I wanna go into the medical field,” she told her husband.
“Do what?” he said.
She took classes, but they were hard, and demanding, and expensive. The science courses were torture. So, she used her superpower.
She talked. She made conversation with the smart students and the teachers. They helped her through. In a few years, she was a therapist. Bona fide.
Her husband was on the front row of her graduation, clapping hard.
By thirty, she tried to get pregnant. But no luck. After several failed attempts and miscarriages, doctors told her it would be impossible to conceive. The news nearly ruined her.
She was in her kitchen one day, the television was playing. A greasy televangelist appeared on the screen. He said: “Someone out there wants to have a baby!”
She turned up the black-and-white set on the counter.
The televangelist hollered, “Trust in the Lord, and you shall have your baby!”
Then, the preacher instructed his viewing audience to remortgage their houses and send in thousands of dollars to the address on the screen.
The woman collapsed on the floor. She cried. She hoped. She was pregnant three weeks later. She did not send money.
Our heroine gave birth to a son who looked like a frog. He was a quiet baby who liked to eat mass amounts of carbohydrates, and he was lazy, but otherwise a pretty nice guy. She had a daughter a few years later.
By then, her husband was starting to act strangely. He’d been showing signs of mental illness.
She’d gone to the pastor about it, but the preacher didn’t take her seriously. Over time, her husband became worse, and worse.
He took his own life. Self-inflicted gunshot. The wake he left was enormous. In some ways, he almost took part of her with him. She couldn’t find sunlight. She didn’t talk much.
Soon, money became tight. And by “tight,” I mean non-existent. Survival was her objective at this stage of life. Her job in the medical field wasn’t panning out, so she made ends meet however she could.
She worked as a cleaning lady, a caterer, a Chik-fil-A cashier, a newspaper delivery woman. And she did it without complaining.
Life became complicated. Happiness became a myth. Her children were everything to her.
Then she got sick.
The illnesses came out of nowhere. Doctors said the disease would kill her. They placed a port in her neck. They filled her with poison. She lost weight. Her adult children cried. She moved in with her sister-in-law in Atlanta.
And one night, when her son was on an all-night drive to Georgia, the young man heard a radio evangelist on the stereo.
“There’s someone out there whose mama is sick!” the preacher said. “Trust! And she shall be made whole!”
Her son pulled over. He collapsed onto his steering wheel. He cried. He hoped.
Then the preacher calmly instructed listeners to cash their Social Security checks and send their insulin money to his home address.
It was a miracle. Doctors still can’t explain how the woman made a recovery.
Today, she is a spitfire. She is healthy. She likes to garden, bake, sing, paint, and babysit her grandbaby. She is trim because she walks all the time. Her dog worships her. And she is a woman who rolls with the Tide.
I had breakfast with her this morning. She still talks more than anyone I’ve ever met. But then, I can’t point fingers.
I was made just like her.
Happy birthday, Mama.