Mother Mary

After supper, Andrea brings a slice of key lime pie for dessert. She stabs a candle in the top. She lights it. We sing “Happy Birthday.”

The seafood joint is busy. There are people everywhere. We are waiting for a table. It’s Mother Mary’s 78th birthday.

The place is overrun with beach tourists. These are typical American families. Families with husbands who drive hundreds of miles in minivans, with screaming children, angry wives, incontinent dogs, and moderately Satanic mothers-in-law.

Studies have proven that mothers-in-law are the leading cause of beer among North American males who own minivans.

But not my mother-in-law.

I’m lucky, I guess. She’s different. She hails from Brewton, Alabama, and she is more sophisticated than a napkin ring. She’s the sort who wears pearls to check her mailbox.

She is in good spirits tonight. Her hair is fixed, her makeup is perfect, her walker has just been WD-Fortied. Her hearing aid batteries are brand new.

Our waitress is named Andrea, I happen to know her. She is a good woman. When Mother Mary sees Andrea coming, she tells my wife, “Jamie, I want to order the alligator.”

But it’s hard to hear in this loud room. Jamie asks: “What’d you say, Mother?”

Mary adjusts her hearing aid. “Say that again, Jamie, I couldn’t hear you.”

“I said, ‘What was that you said, Mother?’”

Mary smiles. “I said, ‘Say that again, Jamie, I couldn’t hear you.’”

“I KNOW that’s what you said, Mother, I wasn’t asking you about that.”


“It’s time to order food.”

“You did what?”


“My feet? They hurt something awful, I believe it’s time for a little toenail trim.”




Andrea, I’ll have a beer please.

We start with an appetizer of alligator. Mother Mary loves alligator. She takes a bite and says, “You know, alligators eat so many humans, isn’t it empowering to eat one of them for a change?”

“Empowering. Yes, ma’am,” I say.


“I said: ‘YES MA’AM.’”

“Man? Where? What man?”

Another beer, Andrea.

Anyway, Mother Mary has stories to accompany our alligator fare:

“I ever tell you about when my daddy bought a baby gator? I named the gator Ed Lee. He was a good pet. Mean, but good.”

She went on to say that one January morning they discovered Ed Lee was frozen stiff and not breathing. So, Mary’s mother placed him in a shoebox and buried Ed Lee in the backyard.

“A few days later,” says Mary, “Daddy asked me where Ed Lee was, so I told him what happened.”

“That gator wasn’t dead,” her father explained. “Alligators hibernate in January.”

Mother Mary laughs at her story, then takes another empowering bite of gator.

Andrea comes to our table. She is carrying a full tray. She places enormous platters before us. The hush puppies are as big as baseballs. We eat. We laugh. A good time is had by all.

After supper, Andrea brings a slice of key lime pie for dessert. She stabs a candle in the top. She lights it. We sing “Happy Birthday.”

When we finish, Mother Mary says, “I Suwannee, we forgot to say grace.”

Thus, while a candle burns, I do the honors.

“Dear Lord,” I begin. “Thank you for Mother Mary, and for her seventy-eighth birthday. Thank you that she is healthy, happy, and has such low cholesterol.

“I’m grateful for her hugs, for her conversation, and kindness. I am grateful to have once lived in her home, just above her bedroom. I am even grateful, Lord, for the days when she watched HGTV at volumes that made the house vibrate like a sub-atomic nuclear testing facility.

“Mother Mary is one of the sweetest women I know, and I feel thankful to be called her son-in-law—no, not thankful. Lucky.

“May Heaven give Mother Mary many happy years. May she know that when she made me a part of her family, she changed me my life forever. Amen.”

Silence falls over the table.

Mother Mary finally breaks the stillness by speaking directly into her daughter’s ear.

She says, “What’n the hell did he just say?”

Happy birthday, Mother Mary.


  1. Nancy Thomaston Rogers - May 25, 2018 10:52 am

    Happy Birthday Mother Mary. I hope the alligator was delicious!

  2. Camille - May 25, 2018 11:20 am

    HAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!! Mother Mary is my kind of woman! Happy Birthday~

  3. Sandra Smith - May 25, 2018 11:30 am

    I was Blessed with a MIL who was more MY Mother, than her son, my husband.
    45 years ago, SHE introduced us, and the rest is history. I miss her very much.

  4. Michael Guilday - May 25, 2018 11:42 am

    Both of my “mothers” have gone to be with our Lord. Enjoy the time you are blessed to have with Mother Mary.

  5. Carolyn Kent - May 25, 2018 12:06 pm

    LOL. Sounds like my dad! Happy Birthday Mother Mary! God bless her!! You haven’t written about Your mother lately! Hope she is doing well.

  6. Caleb Halstead - May 25, 2018 12:41 pm

    Classic! Love it!

  7. Adams Hudson - May 25, 2018 1:01 pm

    Yep, I get it. My mother-in-law was a pearl wearing, mailbox checking lady of the old south too.

    When my friends would complain about theirs, I could not join in. Melba (what a great name) passed away in December after I had the pleasure of knowing her for 33 years.

    Treasure these days, Happy 78th indeed.

  8. Margo - May 25, 2018 1:23 pm

    You could write all day about the human condition with that sense of humor. What a riot!!! I laughed out loud!!!

  9. Carol Houston Rothwell - May 25, 2018 1:27 pm

    She’s a hoot..and aren’t we Lucky you share her with us….
    I have a wonderful son-in law too…
    But he keeps telling me , they’ll be a bus
    by shortly!! Wonder what he means!!!!
    Happy Birthday Mary!!
    ? Love ya!

  10. Jack Darnell - May 25, 2018 1:40 pm

    Just so you will know son, 78 ain’t old. Just wait ’til you get there! LOL Me and you are lucky. Got the best woman in the world and the best mother in law. Mine has past on, but she was the BEST!

  11. Edna B. - May 25, 2018 1:56 pm

    Happy 78th Birthday, Mary. God Bless her. You know how to start my day with a chuckle and a grin. Thanks for this wonderful story. Enjoy Mary while you have her. Sean. you have a great day.

  12. Pat - May 25, 2018 2:22 pm

    I feel your pain about the noise level from the TV. It is hell trying to communicate with those who are hard of hearing.

    Happy birthday Mother Mary!

  13. Jack - May 25, 2018 2:24 pm

    Mine is Mary Jane, is 78 and has same birthday as me!! Thanks, Sean!

  14. Bill T - May 25, 2018 3:04 pm

    My 83 YO wife, except she wouldn’t est alligator or fowl.

  15. Jack Quanstrum - May 25, 2018 4:21 pm

    Ha! Ha! 🙂

  16. Linda Chipman - May 25, 2018 4:48 pm

    Thanks for a good laugh. I was very fortunate to also have a wonderful mother-in-law and I still miss her. But thank goodness her hearing was good!

  17. Ava - May 25, 2018 4:55 pm

    True story. My mother-in-law read a sign on the side of the road that said “Black Bear Cove”. In response my husband hollered “blackberry cobbler”. We had conversations like that every day.

  18. Dianne - May 25, 2018 7:13 pm

    Priceless!! Made my day!

  19. Linda - May 25, 2018 11:16 pm

    Love this Sean !
    As a mother in law trying to be one of the good ones… I really appreciate your kind words.

  20. Susie - May 25, 2018 11:56 pm


  21. Sandi in FL. - May 26, 2018 1:19 am

    I’m glad you and Jamie treated her mother to dinner on her birthday. She sounds like a real gem of a relative. Everyone should have a mother-in-law like her. May she be blessed with many more wonderful birthdays.

  22. Barbara Schweck - May 26, 2018 6:40 pm

    You are such a hoot!!!

  23. Dru - May 29, 2018 5:13 am

    At first I thought you were heading into Flannery O’Connor territory, but then there was a hard right to Roseanne Roseannadanna! Thanks! Down south, a good son in law isn’t hard to find! Neither is a good mother in law!

  24. Anna - May 29, 2018 9:09 am

    I enjoyed that……..put a smile on my face. I have relatives like Mother Mary and I love them. I wish I could share this story.

  25. Martha Flemister - May 29, 2018 4:04 pm

    That was too funny. It sounds like I know my friend and I are going to be like. We both enjoy your posts.

  26. Kristine - May 30, 2018 1:13 pm

    Absolutely cute and lovingly endearing! It’s like we were right there in the story with our own cast of characters. Rich and thankful for our loved elders for sure, what treasures we are blessed with. Thanks for the lovely “share.”

  27. Jenny Young - June 2, 2018 3:41 pm

    Oh I hope people laugh at/with me when I reach that stage of life.

    The prayer was my favorite… mother-in-law used to forget that we prayed. Every meal we heard….’Charlie, did you pray?!” or ‘Charlie, say the prayer!’…we stopped a few times through the meal to pray. We ate the most prayed over food in the history of the world. And once as soon as he finished praying she said, ‘Charlie, I don’t think you prayed long enough…you need to pray again.’…so he prayed again.

  28. Jess from Athens, GA - December 31, 2018 8:01 pm

    LOL…….that was a great ending, Sean. I’ve known a few people like Mother Mary…and it can be difficult communicating with them in a crowded restaurant or even in a library for that matter.


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