“Don’t get me talking about my mama,” he said. “Or I’ll start crying.”
The man in the necktie started talking about her anyway. There was no way he could help it. He’d just attended her funeral. According to him, it was a small affair. She was in her eighties.
“They did a good job on her,” he said. “She looked rested.”
It was late. The bartender was tired, musicians packed up instruments, waitresses swept floors, and this man wanted to talk about his mama.
Well, talking about your mother is a tradition in this part of the world. You can hear mama-stories in almost any waterhole across our region. And each tale carries the same weight as a Sunday-school Bible lesson. I don’t know if people from other parts talk about mothers quite as often, but I hope they do.
As a teenager, I remember sitting around an Andalusia campfire, watching three boys with beer cans swap mama-stories. Three of us had mothers. John did not.
“You know,” said John. “Before Mama died, I fell off the porch once. I broke my leg, I was in a cast for months…”
“I remember that,” said another.
John went on, “She cooked so much food, Daddy and I started getting fat.”
This drew a few laughs, but not too many. Because we knew what came next.
He closed his eyes. “Y’all don’t know how good you have it.”
John finally said, “You fellas reckon my mama’s in heaven?”
And since ignorant teenagers don’t know what to do in these situations, each of us took turns giving John a hug.
Males are strange animals. We pretend. In fact, we’ve been faking it a long time. We act like we know what we’re supposed to be. We go to work, change our motor oil, and—God-willing—mow our lawns every three months.
We make-believe we’re men, even though we’re about as tough as undercooked pudding. We’re not half as strong as we pretend. That’s why we talk about our mamas like we do.
Because mamas don’t pretend.
The man at the bar loosened his tie and ordered another drink. The bartender told him it was closing time. So, he tipped her a hundred-dollar bill, then walked outside. I found him sitting on the curb, looking upward at the moon.
“You think people go somewhere when they die?” he asked.
This man was a complete stranger. I didn’t know what to say.
I hope he didn’t mind the hug.