The picture of her son was a wallet-sized, high-school portrait from the late sixties. The boy’s hair was painfully dated. His smile was easy. He was a good kid. That’s what they tell me.
He and his mother were close. Best friends, even. She was a single mother; he was a mama’s boy.
They were driving home from Atlanta one afternoon. They saw a car stalled on the side of the road.
“Don’t pull over,” she told her teenage son. “We don’t have time. Don’t wanna be late for kickoff.”
In those days, high-school kickoffs ruled the world. Her son was a good fullback. There was even talk about recruitment. Not serious talk, but talk.
Either way, he was a poster child for the American athlete. He had high cheekbones, mucho promise, a sweet girlfriend, good grades, and no limits.
“I gotta pull over, Mama,” he said. “That person needs help.”
He veered to the shoulder. He stepped out to help an old man change a tire.
She didn’t actually see it happen. But she heard the old man shout, “Move!”
And out of the corner of her eye, she saw the old man jump. Then: a crash. Followed by skidding.
And her boy was gone.
The days that followed were the worst of her life. Not only because he was gone, but because a piece of her had been buried, too.
Someone once heard her say, “I asked God to take me on the day of his funeral. I wanted to give up living. I couldn’t see the point.”
But God didn’t take her.
Something different happened. One sunny day, a knock at her door. Her son’s girlfriend. They sat at a table together. They cried peach-sized tears. They looked at photos. They held one another.
The girl told her she was pregnant.
And I understand that his mother’s happiness outweighed sadness.
The pregnancy was a normal, joyful one. Still, for each “congratulations” someone offered, an “I’m so sorry” followed.
But babies are immune to sadness, and they make others immune too. They cause people to feel warm no matter what the outside temperature. The child turned a plain hospital room into all smiles. And when the kid’s granny held him, that was that. Granny wouldn’t let him go for two days.
The boy spent his childhood at Granny’s. And Granny helped raise him—in many ways, she was Mother as much as Grandmother.
Over the years, she told the child stories about his father. About a hero. About a good young man. In fact, she wrote her stories down in a notebook so her grandson would always have them. It took a year to finish writing.
The last story in her notes was a lot like the one I just told you. A teenage Good Samaritan, a long drive home, and a quick stop to change a tire.
They tell me she died easy in her bed, with family nearby. She was fortunate not to suffer long. Her grandson made copies of a tattered notebook. He kept the new copies and placed the original in her casket—along with the black-and-white senior portrait of a fullback.
Someone told me that only hours before her death she said: “I’ve waited a long time to see my Danny again. I’m more than ready.”
Today she’s with her boy. And what a grand day in heaven it must be.