Mother Mary

Mother Mary also talks about a period in history which is only remembered in black-and-white photos now. A time before her rheumatism slowed her. When she was slender as a bird, with dark hair, and sharp eyes.

The Alabama-Florida State game is on television. My mother-in-law is watching with me. She’s sitting in her recliner, Velcro shoes propped in the air.

She just had surgery, she’s too weak to cheer. She’s been in the hospital for two days. Doctors discharged her only a few hours ago.

When she arrived home, my wife and brother-in-law helped her limp into the house on weak knees. I carried purses and offered verbal assistance.

They ushered Scarlett O’Hara over the brick steps, through the hall, into the living-room—where she sits now.

On the wall behind her are graduation photos of her children—framed in gold.

On her sidetable: a magazine, with her redheaded son-in-law’s article in it. She shows this to visitors.

“You can’t write about me tonight,” says my mother-in-law. “I’m not wearing my pearls. You’re only allowed to write about me if I have pearls on.”

My wife disappears, then returns with a strand of pearls. She fastens them around the sophisticated belle’s neck.

“There,” my wife says. “Now he can write about you.”

My mother-in-law knows, of course, I’ll write about her. This is why she starts telling detailed childhood stories during the most pivotal moments of the SEC football game of the century.

She knows I like her stories.

There’s the story, for instance, of when she lost her pet duck. The duck escaped and flew over Brewton, Alabama’s downtown during hunting season.

The fellas sitting in front of the hardware store shot the bird dead. The duck made the front page of the paper.

Then there’s the one about her pet baby alligator. She loved her alligator. She dressed it in girly clothes, took it to tea parties, and let it sleep beside her.

One autumn morning, her alligator quit breathing. She buried it in a shoebox. She wore a black dress, and quoted the 23rd Psalm. She had no idea, at the time, that alligators hibernated.

Mother Mary also talks about a period in history which is only remembered in black-and-white photos now. A time before her rheumatism slowed her. When she was slender as a bird, with dark hair, and sharp eyes.

They were happy days before the world was all-electronic. When teenagers ran barefoot through South Alabama. A time of dances, sawmills, Sunday-school teachers, coon hunting, and floral-print dresses.

When church and football were part of the same religion. When small towns shut down early on Thursday afternoons, just because.

When Sunday dinners were worth looking forward to. When family was everything.

It was a time when children had no cellphones, but used pocketknives, marbles, decoder rings, slingshots, roller skates, checkers, piggy banks, and footballs. When she had her whole life ahead of her—without a trace of arthritis.

Interception. Touchdown, Alabama.

I cheer. My wife cheers. My coonhound howls so loud she almost knocks my beer over.

I apologize to my mother-in-law for interrupting her story. I ask her to keep talking.

But she doesn’t answer. She’s already asleep with her mouth open. My wife removes her Velcro shoes and covers her with a blanket. My dog licks her limp hand.

I wasn’t going to write about her tonight, I really wasn’t.

But she is wearing her pearls.


  1. Sam Hunneman - September 3, 2017 12:56 pm

    Gators hibernate?! Love and healing send south to Mother Mary… “speaking words of wisdom, let it be.” Love how evocative your pieces are, Sean. Thanks.

  2. Donna Holifield - September 3, 2017 12:57 pm


  3. Catherine - September 3, 2017 1:05 pm

    I just love this one Sean. More please.

  4. Bobbie Lemons Lovell - September 3, 2017 1:08 pm

    You start my day off right each morning, Sean
    Aren’t folks wonderful?!!

  5. Jack Quanstrum - September 3, 2017 1:12 pm

    Love your finishing line. Love the whole story! Especially about the alligator. I smiled so hard it almost cracked my face. I was a child in the 50s and a teenager in the 60s. I remember pocket knives, marbles, climbing trees, rotary phones and never wanting to come inside to eat dinner because I could not get enough of what I call free playing. Thank you for the pure memories you invoked in me this morning. Shalom!

  6. Connie - September 3, 2017 1:46 pm

    I love how much you love your mother in law. You make my day brighter every day.

  7. Sandra Marrar - September 3, 2017 1:49 pm


  8. Trudy :) - September 3, 2017 2:15 pm

    Pearls….the sign, in the old South, of a lady through and through. I was raised in the old South. My mother wore pearls which Daddy brought to her from Japan after he returned from WWII where he’d been a captain on a ship at Iwo Jima. He, too, was from the South……Virginia. They were quite a pair….the officer and gentleman and the lady wearing the pearls. Thank you for bringing back the memory of Mother wearing her pearls escorted by the officer and gentleman of her heart.
    Blessings, smiles, and rapid healing to your sweet mother-in-law, Sean.

    • Wendy - September 4, 2017 10:47 pm

      Trudy, thank you for also sharing your memory. I still have my in-laws 96 & 95, but dementia recently caught up with them. They’ve lived in assisted care facility for almost three years now. Regardless the memory problems, my mother-in-law ALWAYS wears her jewelry. They were never wealthy with material “things” but no one would know by seeing her daily attire. She’s not dressing to impress; just wants to feel pretty.
      And as always, thank you also, Sean. RTR.

  9. Susan in Georgia - September 3, 2017 2:24 pm

    Love every paragraph! I’m left smiling this morning which is a wonderful way to start the day. I totally identify with the activities you listed about childhood ~ those were the good ol’ days. God bless your Mother-in-law, precious lady wearing her pearls, may she fully recover soonest.

  10. Judy Miller - September 3, 2017 3:06 pm

    I too, sitting in my recliner–with arthritic back, hips and knees, but no pearls. I thought the game would be a lot closer than it was.

  11. Pamela McEachern - September 3, 2017 5:04 pm

    God Bless mother Mary and her loving family. I am glad she has weathered her medical storm and we all know we are going to watch and cheer on our team no matter what else is happening in our lives. Amen and Roll Tide -Growl On Tigers, the South is alive in team spirit!

  12. Mary - September 3, 2017 7:12 pm

    From one Mary to another…I hope you feel better soon.

  13. Melodie - September 3, 2017 7:39 pm

    Thank you for taking me back in time, and a speedy recovery for Mother Mary. Every day is special enough to wear ones’ pearls.

    Roll Tide!

  14. Cathy W - September 3, 2017 7:48 pm

    I saw glimpses of my Mama yesterday at a family reunion of her side. I was going to call and ask her about who was kin to one of her cousins, but remembered that’s not an option anymore.
    I am thankful for the Sunday after-lunch conversations with my amazing Daddy. I treasure his stories yet to come.

    I love your stories. Keep on

  15. Nancy Payne - September 3, 2017 7:48 pm

    I love your stories…you need to read CARRYING ALBERT HOME by Homer Hickam…real alligator story…

  16. Lori Klein - September 3, 2017 8:08 pm

    Gracious. That alligator story had me cackling all alone in the living room.
    Get well Miss Mary. Get well soon.

  17. Sara - September 3, 2017 8:37 pm

    I wasn’t gonna shed a tear today – but I did. The reading was worth it. Thank you.

  18. Marty from Alabama - September 3, 2017 8:45 pm

    This was perfect reading for a quite Sunday afternoon. Bama rolled last night, the air has a touch of call to it and life is good.
    More stories about Mother Mary. Bet you two are a riot when set out “a talkin’.”

  19. Marty from Alabama - September 3, 2017 8:47 pm

    Sorry. Fat fingers on tiny keys make for mistakes. The air has a touch of FALL, not call.

  20. Susan E. Kane - September 4, 2017 2:22 am

    Rick Watson mentioned you and your excellent storytelling. He hit the nail there, for sure. I love the way your words roll along.

    Okay, about the alligator. What happened when the reptile woke up?

  21. Anne Godwin - September 4, 2017 4:29 am

    I really enjoy your slices of life. “It was a time when children had no cellphones, but used pocketknives, marbles, decoder rings, slingshots, roller skates, checkers, piggy banks, and footballs.” I had all of that except a pocketknife and a football. I did have an air rifle. Good times. Good memories. Thanks…

  22. Melanie Tighe - September 4, 2017 9:51 am

    Agree about the game but the best team won and hope it continues to roll through the rest of the season. Hope your MIL has a speedy recovery. Love to you and your family especially your precious hound ? My mutt is half blue tick coon hound.

  23. Suzanne - September 4, 2017 12:41 pm


    • Janet Mary Lee - September 4, 2017 6:58 pm

      Mother Mary- what a lady!! She is very Blessed to have a wonderful family ! Hope she is well soon. War Eagle!

  24. Tamera Moody - September 5, 2017 2:35 pm

    Bless you Sean! I hope there are some smooth dirt roads to walk barefoot down in heaven! And I hope that one day I am as loved of a mother-in-law as yours is! Hugs!

  25. Dana Stockli - September 5, 2017 8:31 pm


  26. Donna - October 18, 2017 11:00 am

    In my world, family is still everything?

  27. Laura Reddick Reichert - October 18, 2017 12:34 pm

    I am a southern woman. I need to buy me some pearls. Besides that, I am a mother- in- law who feels the love from her family like yours does from you. Blessings abound!

  28. Deena - October 18, 2017 3:02 pm

    Thank you for touching my heart every single day. ?

  29. Shari - January 15, 2020 2:27 am

    Just wanted you to know that you are now in SOUTH Dakota as well as SOUTHERN Az, where I am wintering. Thanks for alllll of this.


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