The newspaper didn’t say much about her. It listed visitation times and the year she was born.
It could’ve said more.
It could’ve said that she was a single mother who worked three jobs sometimes. Or that she never missed work.
She’d been a receptionist, a cashier, a waitress, a factory employee, a custodian, a disciplinarian. She’d cleaned houses for cash under the table.
She was above nothing, below no one.
Her skin was dry from too much smoke and caffeine. He hair was wiry. She was beauty wrapped in service uniforms.
There are pictures. Black-and-whites photos of a slender teenage girl who became a mother of three.
A photograph: she’s bouncing a child on her hip, holding the hand of her oldest. She’s wearing a fast food visor.
Another: she’s sitting in a miniature train, it’s Christmas, a baby in her lap. Two older kids are in the picture. Her hair practically screams 1970’s.
That photo was taken just before her husband died.
Her kids don’t remember him. They don’t remember the hell she endured after him.
All they recall is her. Her, standing before a closed casket. Her, pumping hands with a hundred wearing black.
The night they laid him in the earth, the kids slept, but she didn’t. She was up all night, staring at her checkbook register.
She must’ve burned through half a carton, worrying herself.
Before his body was cold, she hustled a job for herself. She walked into a car dealership and begged. They gave her work. She answered phones, made coffee, cleaned toilets, mopped the showroom floor.
It didn’t pay well, so she took babysitting gigs. She worked at a grocery store. She waited tables at a restaurant. She put together CB radio circuit boards on an assembly line. She sewed women’s clothes.
She put her son through college. She bought braces for her daughter. She pieced money together from dry air.
Her daughter got pregnant at seventeen. The girl’s boyfriend bolted for parts unknown. She raised her granddaughter and still found cash for her daughter’s X-ray tech school.
Her youngest joined law enforcement. Her oldest is a contractor.
She was special. The photos on her sofa tables are the mosaic of an American family that almost drowned, but didn’t.
I come from a family like this.
Her funeral was not well attended. She didn’t have time for friendships during life. She wasn’t a churchgoer, a country club member, or a PTA mother. She was rough hands, high morals, and low on sleep since 1972.
You ought to see her family. They are beautiful. When they say her name, they remember the best person they ever knew. The one who taught them to be a human being.
I never met her, but I know her. I was raised by her.
These aren’t women. Not really. They are from another realm. They come to us wearing scrubs, Walmart vests, or food service uniforms. They might not look like much, but to some of us, they are proof that there is a heaven.
They will spend their lives on children. When their family is grown, they will raise their children’s children. And at the end of the race, all they get in return are a few lines in the obituary section.
Well. Not if I can help it.
Rest, Miss Jenny.
And God bless single mothers.