It’s suppertime. My wife is teaching school late tonight and I don’t like eating alone. So, I picked up barbecue from a place my mother-in-law likes.
I appeared on her doorstep, unannounced, holding a fresh bouquet—fresh from the supermarket.
She’s independent, my mother-in-law. She lives alone—not counting her cats.
She fell recently. A few times. Once in the garage. Again this morning, in the bathtub. She has a bruised tailbone. I can tell she’s in pain. I wish there were something I could do.
Sandwiches and flowers are the best I could come up with.
“I brought supper,” I say. “Hope you’re hungry.”
I’m in luck. She is.
Mother Mary uses a walker. It’s candy-apple red. The same contraption that took me four tedious hours to assemble. We call it the General Lee.
When she finishes arranging flowers, she tells me she’d like to eat supper in the den, on her recliner. So I get her situated.
The Weather Channel is blaring at a volume loud enough to interfere with air-traffic transmissions.
I start to turn it off.
“No,” she says. “Leave it on, I wanna see tomorrow’s weather.”
And so we eat pulled pork while Jim Cantore demonstrates the impact of high-pressure systems on the greater southeastern region.
“How’s Ellie Mae?” my mother-in-law shouts.
She’s being polite. I don’t have kids, so she’s asking about my coonhound.
“She’s good,” I holler.
She adds with a wink, “I like it when you write about your dog, but I like it better when you write about me.”
I know Mother Mary’s not feeling well. I can see it on her face. But she’s sophisticated to a fault. She comes from a world that’s peppered with Antebellum columns and parlors with high ceilings.
She’s learned how to smile through pain and make dinner guests welcome.
In the years I’ve known her, I’ve watched her give that welcome to anyone she meets. Everyone from cashiers at Piggly Wiggly, to chatty redheads dating her daughter.
People feel easy around her. People like me. She can fill up dead-space in discussions without using many words.
She tells good stories. She talks about Huntingdon College, about fishing with her daddy, about her pet coon. About Brewton—before they tore down the train depot.
She speaks just like the Alabama she grew up in. Slow and relaxed. And she knows how to turn supper on the sofa into a country-club brunch.
Her house is getting too big for one woman. Even so, she still manages to keep gardenias on tables, her bed linens still get ironed, and there’s beer in the fridge for her son-in-law.
She likes it when I write about her.
So, by God, that’s what I’ve done.