Montgomery—it was a sunny February day in 1956. Martha and her husband sat in an ugly, sterile, third-floor government office.
Outside was a blue sky, beautiful trees, and birds. Inside, it was dismal.
Martha was wringing her hands. She looked at her husband and saw him bouncing his knees.
“Would you relax?” she said to him.
“You first,” he said.
But the truth was, she was just as anxious as him. And who could blame them? Their adoption papers had been bouncing through the bureaucratic ping-pong machine for twenty-seven months now.
That’s long enough to earn a master’s degree.
When they first submitted the application they felt nothing but excitement. They filled out the forms and requested a son. The anticipation was almost too much.
What would he look like? Who would he grow to become? After ten years of marriage, Martha was ready to hold her own child. She wanted someone call her “Mama.”
In years past, she’d only ever held children that belonged to friends or family, and this did nothing to satisfy her two empty arms.
So, they turned in their papers. They hoped, and waited, and stared at their kitchen phone every evening.
But time went on, and the phone did not ring. Six months became a year. A year became two years. Not knowing was torture.
Alabama caseworkers sometimes visited their home in Dothan, without warning. These were friendly social workers, certainly, but only in the governmental sense. The caseworkers would make notes on clipboards, then look at Martha like they were sizing her up for a butcher’s window.
Martha wondered if the phone call would ever come.
Three days ago it did. The bell sounded on Martha’s phone and she almost lost her mind.
The voice on the line said, “You can pick up your son at the State Department of Pensions and Security.”
So there they were. They had been waiting, sitting in those god-awful government chairs for an hour.
Finally, the door creaked open. A social worker entered the room, she was carrying something wrapped in a blue blanket.
“Here he is,” said the woman.
Martha stood. She held her hands outward. She received a baby into her arms.
The boy was just over three months old. His little fingers, his big eyes, his smooth skin, he was pure perfection.
“This is a big decision,” the social worker explained. “This doesn’t HAVE to be the one, you know.”
Martha and her husband held the boy, speaking in high-pitched voices. They cooed at him, gurgled, played peek-a-boo, and whispered sweet things.
There is nothing quite like holding a baby. It does something to a person. It lights up your soul and leaves you better off than you were before.
“Look,” said Martha touching the baby’s chin. “He’s got no hair and three chins.”
She laughed. It was the kind of laughter that almost leads to crying. Her mind started to wonder about things, and it sent a bolt of anxiety through her.
“Wait a minute,” she thought to herself. “What am I doing? This child doesn’t know me, and I don’t know him. Am I doing the right thing? Can I care for him? Can I love him like my own? Am I capable? Can I be a mother? What kind of mother will I be? A good one? A bad one? Have I lost my mind?”
It was almost too much to bear, all the varied emotions became so heavy they could’ve caved in the roof of that ugly office.
She tickled his chubby neck again. He drooled on himself, and made one of those glorious baby noises.
This put an end to all doubt.
“Yes,” was the answer. Yes, she could be a mother. Yes she could love him. Yes, she could kiss scraped knees, cheer at ball games, and hold him tight when some girl broke his teenage heart. Yes, she could be what this child needed. Yes, by God, yes.
It would be her greatest endeavor. The reason for her life, even. Her ultimate achievement. She would go on to have more children, and grandchildren, and family would be everything to her.
And when Heaven finally called her home, at age ninety-two, her children would congregate around her. They would recall the way she raised them. The way she loved them.
And they would remember her as “Mama.”
Rest in peace, Miss Martha.