I’d Buy a Roomful of Roses

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.”


  1. Donna Oldford - May 11, 2020 8:44 am

    Lovely word picture. I have just discovered your writing and am enjoying it during the too-peaceful days of this pandemic. I’m a DeFuniak Springs and Grayton Beach ex-patriot, living in the Napa Valley wine country for the last 30+ years. For the moment and who knows how long, I cannot go back to visit. Thanks for all the little trips home. Just ordered five of your books, BTW, I like fried catfish at McLean’s, too!

  2. Lita - May 11, 2020 8:52 am

    I grew up without parents. Mothering Sunday meant nothing until I met my best beloved’s mother in 1971. She taught me everything I know about love, compassion, endurance, and the simple joys of life. She was such a gift to the world. Her favourite flowers were freesias. She was gathered in 1996, just before her 80th birthday. Every now and then, the scent of freesias is in the air even when there are none around. With the logical part of my brain, I know an olfactory memory has been stimulated. In my soul, there’s the comforting, fragrant warmth of love from my mother-in-law.

  3. Lucretia - May 11, 2020 10:00 am

    The color yellow is a favorite of mine and one of my grandsons, who will soon be three. We are giving all yellow birthday gifts, the “purchasing of” has been a joy. It is my hope that Southern Hugs have not been stripped away from us forever. So, so, so sad to be a conquered people. . .we shall rise again like the yellow sun that greets the new day!!!

  4. Curtis Lee Zeitelhack - May 11, 2020 11:04 am

    To your Sue and all the other “Sues” in the world – This is a day late, but – Happy Mama’s Day! I wish I could have driven by to leave flowers (pink ones) for my Mom, but she died almost 19 years ago. I miss her every day.

  5. Elizabeth - May 11, 2020 11:55 am

    Damn quarantine. People should be able to hug their Mommas. And Gammahs should be able to hug their grandbabies.

  6. Jan - May 11, 2020 12:08 pm

    Beautiful tribute to your Mother. She is a very special person and so are you!

  7. Betty F. - May 11, 2020 12:22 pm

    No fair. I’m gushing tears (very un-Scandinavian behavior)…. Happy Mothers’ Day…..

  8. Cheryl W. - May 11, 2020 12:23 pm

    My 98 year old, blind and non-ambulatory mom is in a covid-free nursing home in a small country town. She is getting excellent care for which I am eternally grateful. We are used to seeing her about 3-4 times a week, but now we haven’t seen her for over 2 months, and she really doesn’t have an extra few months to throw away at her age. She doesn’t remember how to operate a phone, so the caregivers were able to take the time to facetime us for Mother’s Day. We were all in tears. She asked if I saw daddy in my dreams to please tell him she loves him and can’t wait to see him. He passed on to Baptist heaven 18 years ago. I am 72 and pray she will still be on this side of Baptist heaven when we can see her again. We both need hugs and shared fried chicken desperately.

  9. Terri - May 11, 2020 12:38 pm

    You are a good son Sean. Love you much.

  10. Karen Erwin-Brown - May 11, 2020 12:41 pm

    “We left the house looking like a bunch of school buses.”
    made me laugh. I know your Mom was happy to see the bumper.


  11. bkr - May 11, 2020 12:55 pm

    Loved this! And you know what? I’m back to hugging people! Decided hugging people might or might not kill me but I would rather hug and die then live and not hug and if the hugee feels the same ( I respect if hugee does not want to hug of course!) but if theydo – we got a hug! Lady at a local big box store asked me “you covered by the Lord.” Yes ma’am I am”. “Then give me a hug!”. Felt so good and I never even got the sniffles. Been hugging my kid my grandkids and everyone is fine and happy! I have to hug. Made me depressed not to so let the news say whatever dire crap they like to say-As for me and my house we’re going back to hugging!

  12. Margaret Jackson - May 11, 2020 2:18 pm


    This article was such a blessing. I’m so old until most of my “mother-influences” have passed on.
    I retired from teaching at Christmas so I didn’t have my little brood to make cards this year..
    I wouldn’t have anyway, with Covid19 quarentine breaking out all over.
    To quote my husband, “My eyes were leaking” when I read this.
    Be thankful that you still have your mom.

    I really look forward to reading your blog each day.

    Stay safe,

  13. Carol Rothwell - May 11, 2020 3:13 pm

    She knows. Mom’s are like that. Just like we know when your not feeling well, happy or unhappy.
    It came on us when you were born !
    I’m so blessed with my two children and grandchildren, even though we’re quarantined I feel the love ❤️
    Happy Furbaby Mother’s Day To Jamie 🌼🌼!
    Love ya!

  14. Keloth Anne - May 11, 2020 3:32 pm

    How very special. So glad you got to bring joy to your Mother. Treasure these times.
    Love you two 🥰

  15. Robert M Brenner - May 11, 2020 4:04 pm

    What a great tribute to your Mom! She raised an awesome son…🌞

  16. Linda Moon - May 11, 2020 4:22 pm

    As often, your story is very much like mine. My yellow-haired daughter surprised me on Mother’s Day with a visit to my front porch. She survived long ago from “something else”. And, I agree with you and Marge Gunderson in that brilliantly dark movie…’here we are and it’s a beautiful day’ – today, just as it was yesterday on Mother’s Day. Give your mother, Sue, a belated virtual hug from me for being the wonderful mother that she was to you and your sister (and still is!!)

  17. Martha Black - May 11, 2020 6:36 pm

    Sean, Did you realize there is a song entitled “Room Full of Roses” by Mickey Holley.

    I had forgotten, but your lead in reminded me. Thought you might enjoy……


  18. Martha Black - May 11, 2020 6:39 pm

    Sorry, my tablet thinks, it’s Holley instead of Gilley. Guess it got confused with Buddy……. somehow.

  19. Becky Souders - May 11, 2020 9:08 pm

    You and your mom are two very lucky people! I wanted hugs yesterday, too, but I can wait; just think how sweet those first ones will be!

  20. Aunt Si or Martha Blackn - June 19, 2020 11:12 pm

    Oh, Sweet Sue…….. We love you!
    Hope we all can get back to hugging before much longer.
    Maybe that’s why we’ve been visited with this horrible “seperation”.
    Some of us needed a reminder of how necessary & important hugs & close up conversations are……


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