It’s Mother’s Day. We are in the car. I have a bouquet in my lap. My wife is driving. I’m listening to Johnny Cash sing “A Boy Named Sue” in honor of the occasion.
I have a long history with this song on Mother’s Day. For one thing, my mother’s name is Sue. She loves any song with the name “Sue” in it, such as: “Peggy Sue,” or “Wake Up Little Susie,” or “Runaround Sue.”
She does not, however, care for “A Boy Named Sue” because it has two cuss words in it.
I sing this song at a lot of my shows because I like Johnny Cash. But I never sing the cuss words. When I get to the part with the swearing, I always change it to something like: “Son of a Baptist.” Which makes the song very mom-friendly.
I sang this song for a bunch of Methodist ministers at a retreat once. My substitute swear word got a standing ovation. Since it went so well, I decided to try singing it at a Baptist church. Someone slashed my tires and set fire to my car in the church parking lot.
But anyway, it’s a sleepy Sunday. There isn’t much traffic on the roads. There is a quarantine on and people aren’t going to church this Mother’s Day. Which feels very weird.
For every Sunday of my life there have always been clusters of cars parked at Baptist and Methodist buildings. And on Saturday nights, when the Catholics used to get together to do whatever the heck Catholics did on Saturday nights, there were cars parked there, too.
One time, when I was a kid, several of us boys eavesdropped on a Catholic mass, peeking through the windows to see what went on in there. The priest filled the chapel with a strange fragrant smoke and people were closing their eyes and singing a song.
My cousin Ed Lee sniffed the air and said, “It’s like a Willie Nelson concert in there!”
He’s been Catholic ever since.
I pass the old Baptist church where I got married. The parking lot is empty. This is the same place where I used to play piano. The small church with mostly elderly members, where the youngest person in the youth group was 68. Seeing the church vacant breaks my heart.
The quarantine has been hard on everyone. Our whole town is empty. Shopping complexes are closed. The restaurants look like tombs.
When I get to my mother’s neighborhood, I slow down. My wife and I are on covert operation. My mother has no idea I’m stopping by to wish her a happy Mother’s Day. This is a surprise.
I turn down the radio.
I haven’t seen my mother in three months. When the quarantine started, my wife and I were on the road. I was doing my little one-man show throughout the Southeast, playing music, making speeches, surviving on hotel food. Then one day suddenly the world fell apart.
Certainly, I’ve talked to my mother on the phone, but it’s not the same. I haven’t seen her face to face.
The bouquet in my lap is yellow. Yellow is my my family’s favorite color. I’m not sure what kind of flowers these are, but I like the color.
The funny thing is, yellow wasn’t always my favorite color. That started after my father died. One of my mother’s friends read that yellow was supposed to induce happiness.
The next thing I knew, my mother was dressing us all-yellow clothing, we never left the house without looking like a little flock of runaway school buses.
Over the years, yellow actually became my favorite color. I’m not sure if it made me any happier, but it certainly gave me a deeper appreciation for what Big Bird went through.
We are approaching my mother’s house. I catch a glimpse of her small fenced patio. My mother’s cat just had kittens. And I know exactly what my mother has been doing since then. She’s been out there babying those kitties.
There are some women who cannot go five minutes go without babying something. My mother is one of these people. This is why, before the quarantine, my mother’s house was usually filled with the high-pitched voices of my sister’s children. They were always running around, eating various fresh-baked goods, calling her “Gam-mah.”
It’s a lovely sound when her grandkids say that word. It makes my eyes get watery each time I hear it.
Long ago, when my father took his own life, my mother was my age. It’s hard for me to conceive how young she truly was. She was ready for the best years of her life. But she got something else. The years that followed his death were years that no amount of yellow could ever undo.
But I don’t mean to talk about depressing things. She survived, and so did I. And here we are. And it’s a beautiful day.
I leave the flowers on her porch. I send her a text message telling her to “Check your porch!!!” Three exclamation points. Then I sit in the car, quarantine-style, waiting for the door to open.
I see the front door crack. She comes outside. She is healthy and tan. She lifts the flowers, she smells them. I think she is crying a little. We honk and wave at her, but we never leave our car. And this makes me feel like a fool.
I hope she knows how much I love her. I hope she knows how much I care even though we are apart. I hope she knows how sorry I am that we can’t hug on Mother’s Day.
We wave goodbye. I see her get smaller in the distance.
I drive away, singing quietly to myself. “Life ain’t easy for a boy named Sue.”