The Miller Lite And Mama

There are a lot of people at this backyard party. Adults, kids, dogs, cats, toddlers wearing poopy diapers, politicians, etc. One little boy runs around screaming. Another child is—if I’m not mistaken—shoving mud up his nose.

My mother and I are in the corner together, nursing SOLO cups. This is a belated surprise birthday party for my little sister.

We’re all awaiting her arrival. My mother and I are sharing memories. You know how that goes:

Remember when we…?” Or “How about that time when we all…?” And you sort of stroll down Memory Lane together, hooking arms.

There was the time when you had the flu one Christmas. The time you almost broke your arm falling from a treehouse, picking mulberries. The childhood church potlucks when four different women would bring casseroles with the cornflakes on top. God bless that wondrous recipe.

I’ve said it before, but the world would be a better place if more women made that humble potato-cheese-cornflake casserole.

My mother is holding a Miller Lite in her hand while we talk. This is a modern miracle.

When I was growing up, she did not even allow cough syrup in the house. She was the sort of woman who closed her eyes during “Rock of Ages,” and during Ronnie Milsap songs, and would douse the Sears catalog with gasoline and set it on fire before I saw it because it contained ads for women’s underwear.

I never thought I would know the pleasure of sharing a Miller Lite with my mother. I always wanted to share a beer with my father, but I never got the chance.

A child runs past us. The kid has dark smears on his face. If that isn’t mud up his nose, I don’t want to know what it is.

Memories can be fun to rehash. But I haven’t always felt this way. It’s taken a long time to enjoy my own memories. Nobody tells you that memories can sting. Even good ones.

For example, a few years ago my mother gave me a big box of family photographs. Some photographs reached back into the early 1900s. Other photos were of Young Me.

I never expected to cringe when I looked at old photos of myself, but I did. I was upset for days after looking at all those photographs of a chubby little boy who had no idea how unsightly he was or how ugly his red hair was.

It was painful, but I forced myself to keep looking at them until they didn’t hurt anymore. It’s taken me years, but now I can look at them without flinching. And even though I was not a nice-looking kid, I don’t hate Young Me anymore.

My mother says, “Do you remember that time when we got stuck on the side of the road…?”

“Yeah,” I say. “Or that time it was late, and we were in the middle of…”

“Or how about that time we went to San Antonio, remember that?”

“When I fell in the river?”

She laughs.

I fell off the Texas tour boat when I was leaning over the side. I splashed into the water like a chubby little cinder block. The tour guide, a Mexican man, pulled me out. For the rest of the tour, I sat in wet clothes. And the only thing worse than being chubby is being chubby in wet clothes. The material clings to the curvature of your backside.

Every passenger on the boat was looking at the sopping wet cute little fat kid. Finally, that Mexican man wrapped me in a giant Texas-flag beach towel. I’m a Floridian, but I have been a big fan of Texas ever since.

“Hey,” I tell my mother. “Remember the time when we—”

But I am cut off.

“She’s here!” someone whispers. And everyone gets deathly silent.

My sister walks through the gate.

Everyone shouts, “SURPRISE!”

My mother raises her beer. My wife, too. My sister looks like she’s about to cry. Her husband wraps his arms around her. Fifty-three small children run in circles, screaming and removing their clothing.

“I don’t know how your sister grew up so fast,” my mother whispers to me. “When did that happen?”

I know exactly how she’s feeling. Sometimes I look around and can’t believe how fast it’s all moving. It seems like yesterday that I was a child, staring at casserole dishes with cornflakes on top. It feels like only last week that my mother was racing across the back lawn to cradle me after I’d fallen out of my treehouse.

My sister weaves throughout the party crowd, her husband beside her.

I still remember the baby my sister used to be. Rosy cheeked and pale. I still recall holding her in my arms during crucial moments of her teenage career when she thought she’d never breathe again. Girls without fathers can be kind of dramatic sometimes. Brothers do the best they can, but we screw up a lot.

“Sean,” my mother says to me. “Would you like another beer?”

As I live and breathe. There’s something I never thought I’d hear Mama say.

“Yes’m.”

The kid with the mud on his face runs past me, hands waving, screaming like a boy with his hair on fire. I hope that’s dirt on his face and not something else.

Somehow the world keeps moving faster. And I keep getting a little slower. But I am grateful to still be here without mud in my nostrils.

God bless the Texas flag.

20 comments

  1. Nell Thomas - February 1, 2020 11:11 am

    Sean-
    I feel sure at this point you and your mom both deserved the beer- beers. From past experiences-
    I have some idea of what it takes to prepare for an event like this. You try to think of everything possible to make it perfect. When the crowds start pouring in- you finally give up and say: “Oh, what the heck.” -When cousin Katie slams the diaper bag down where the potatoe salad goes and complains about there being no room in the fridge for 12 baby bottles. You suggest: “Maybe there is room in the ice chest with the beer or it will soon be.”
    (You and your mom are working on it.)
    Thank God for family. Bless them and especially those that host these events and thank you Sean for sharing this one with us.

    Reply
  2. Elizabeth - February 1, 2020 1:40 pm

    Wow! More wow! Love it…thank you.

    Reply
  3. Shelton A. - February 1, 2020 2:19 pm

    I hope it was mud, too. My kids are in their 20’s and I’m a grandpop. Who knew time could move this way. It does go by so fast. Glad, very glad you got to enjoy a beer with your mom-might seem insignificant to some but you know what that means to you.

    Reply
  4. Allyson Marxsen - February 1, 2020 2:38 pm

    Lovely post Sean. I love the way you write and the way you think. Thanks for sharing snapshots of your life with us.

    Reply
  5. Mrussell - February 1, 2020 2:54 pm

    Without fail, Sean, you write something I can relate to so well. I, too, love those casseroles with corn flakes the church ladies used to make. I haven’t had one in years. And I too, had to force myself to look at those young pictures of myself – the lonely, lost girl with hand-me-down clothes that were way too tight- with hair that looked like a rats nest- who tried to fit in, but just didn’t. Finally, at 55 years old, I can look at those pictures and not cringe. I reach back into that part of me and embrace that little girl and tell her I love her. It has taken a lifetime, but I keep a framed picture of her by my bed and wish her a good morning when I wake up every day. I thought I was the only one who struggled with those old pictures of myself. So good to know that you have grown to love that chubby red headed little boy. All of your fans certainly love him !

    Reply
  6. Carol - February 1, 2020 3:40 pm

    This March my mom will be gone 3yrs.amd even though I’ve know there’s a photo album and a box of photos,I haven’t been able to go though them ,!
    My Pete’s been gone 18yrs and I still can’t look at pictures of him or us ,I cry, like I am now !
    Dang , I don’t understand.
    But reading this I am going to get moms album out and see what and who she has in it. Watch out a flood is on the way, I’m a cryer too 😢
    Take care and thank you for reminding me of the album!
    See you soon!
    Love ya!

    Reply
  7. David B. - February 1, 2020 3:59 pm

    sweet memories!

    Reply
  8. aleathia nicholson - February 1, 2020 4:04 pm

    May you live long enough to enjoy one of these reunions. I just got an email from a bestie….that’s best friend in case you didn’t get it. It was from a nursing home or maybe an independent living place ..like where I live…or —whatever Anyhow, it’s a bunch of women dancing with their walkers and doing their version of an abbreviated hootchy-kootchy. I reckon you really need to be there looking at the email but I don’t know how to send stuff so use your imagination….also the music as I forgot that,too.

    Reply
  9. Jim Clayton - February 1, 2020 4:58 pm

    Born in Florida, raised in Alabama, have lived in Texas for almost 40 years, so I GET you. And I appreciate you.

    Reply
  10. John Swingle - February 1, 2020 5:14 pm

    At 73 I’ve found that once you’re “over the hill “ it’s downhill and time passes faster and faster.

    Reply
  11. Keloth Anne - February 1, 2020 5:20 pm

    I loved this a lot!! My sister is 10 years younger than me and every year I look at her and wonder “where have the years gone?” She was the little girl that I looked after for a long time and I still consider her my “little sister”. We are blessed to have lots and lots of treasured memories.
    Thank you for your wonderful writings 🥰

    Reply
  12. Linda Moon - February 1, 2020 5:42 pm

    I love to give and/or get Surprise Birthday Parties whether they’re belated or a day early…..just threw one with family and memories three weeks ago. I’m so glad you and your Mom shared the beer and memories! I was bored last night, so I perused your Archives from a while back before I ever knew Sean of the South existed. It was “Bible Thumper”, and I posted a very belated reply. I think sharing a beer with your Mom is so cool, especially after I turned over a Penny from Heaven for me in from the archived post. I bet your little sister Sarah had a great time at her own party, too! You two are lucky to have each other!

    Reply
  13. Lisa Perkins - February 1, 2020 6:14 pm

    I am the only girl of my family, with 4 older brothers. They were the most awesome brothers on the planet…..but I believe your sister would think that YOU are the most awesome brother. I’m glad you’re still so close to her. Well done.

    Reply
  14. John Pritchett - February 1, 2020 7:00 pm

    Sean, I liked you pretty good until I found out you had Red Hair and now I’m just not sure. I always wanted Red Hair but my baby brother and my middle sister got it and I got this old sandy blond ( now silver gray); so, I’m jealous of your Red Hair!

    Reply
  15. Jess - February 1, 2020 7:02 pm

    Sean, I wish you could have had the pleasure of drinking beer alongside your father. I was lucky. When I turned 21 years old my father took me to his favorite beer joint for my first legal age beer. We walked in and sat on stools at the bar. The bartender came over and Dad ordered two beers. In a few moments he came back set down the two beers, turned and walked away. Dad said, “Aren’t you going to check his ID,” and motioned toward me. The bartender turned, looked at me and said, “No.” I was crestfallen!!! I guess he thought I looked at least 21 years old if not older.

    Reply
  16. Connie Havard Ryland - February 1, 2020 7:23 pm

    I’ve always loved chubby kids, and I always wanted red hair. I wound up with auburn instead but I am jealous (in a good way) of natural red heads. I didn’t have a big brother to watch over me so I know your sister feels blessed to have had someone like you who loves her so very much. Thank you for sharing your life with us. Love and hugs.

    Reply
  17. Mary T - February 1, 2020 8:00 pm

    Years ago, in an Ann Landers column, someone said their mother always held the camera so so wouldn’t be I any pictures. When she died they realized there were hardly any pictures of her. The writer begged people to let their picture be taken so they can relive the memories. I’m trying to do better.

    Reply
  18. Lori - February 1, 2020 8:24 pm

    ❤️

    Reply
  19. Nell Thomas - February 2, 2020 12:43 am

    Carol- I lost my mom 2 months ago. I have spent the last month going thru things. I came across pictures that I have not seen in a while and some I have never seen before. Of course it was difficult at times but at the same time I enjoyed sharing them with my children, grandchildren and other family members. I also got involved in organizing the pictures so passing them on will it easier on whoever has this task next.
    I learned alot from the old photos. So take your time. There will be sad moments , no doubt, but hope you will find some comfort and joy. I will be praying that you do.

    Reply
  20. Estelle - February 2, 2020 6:12 am

    Take those pictures you have on your smart phone &/or digital camera and get them printed. Otherwise a great many memories could be destroyed with a wrong button tap.

    Reply

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