The Unsinkable Mother Mary

Mother Mary is eating barbecued brisket with me. It’s a Saturday night. She is seated at the table, her walker sits parked beside her. Her makeup is fixed. Her hair is white with a tinge of blue. She wears pearls.

Pearls. For barbecued brisket.

I first referred to my mother-in-law as “Mother Mary” eons ago, when I was at her house watching a televised baseball game. The reason I called her this was because you don’t want to call your mother-in-law by her first name unless you want to end up in Hell.

I remember the San Francisco Giants were playing the Washington Nationals. My father-in-law and I were watching Barry Bonds at the plate. My father-in-law, Brother Jim, couldn’t stand Barry Bonds.

Brother Jim came from the era when Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris were household names. A time when all American boys, no matter which state they were from, loved the lanky Yanks.

I should stop here and explain. To me, my father-in-law only ever went by one nickname: “Brother Jim.”

I gave him this title because this is what we fellow Baptists called each other. We reserve the title “brother” for members of the clergy, deacons, elders, or police officers who pull us over.

The joke of course was that Brother Jim Martin was definitely not a clergyman. He used words that could make sailors blush, and he was always deeply concerned about football-game point spreads in a way that made you wonder if more was at stake than simply team pride.

Anyway, Brother Jim looked at Barry Bonds on the screen and said, “I can’t stand this joker!”

And I agreed. Barry Bonds was part of a generation of over-muscled baseball players that almost ruined professional baseball for me.

Not long ago, you’d turn on the television to watch an average game and it looked like a bunch of greased up professional wrestlers were playing wiffle ball against third-graders. You half expected Hulk Hogan to be standing at third base and Lou Ferrigno to be playing shortstop.

My father-in-law scoffed at the TV. “This modern baseball is a load of [use your imagination].”

My mother-in-law was horrified. Her voice rang with the anvil tones of a lifelong Methodist. “Jim, don’t use that foul word.”

He laughed at her and said, “What’re you, my mother? ‘Mother Mary?’”

And the nickname stuck. Later I heard that this nickname went back a lot further. They tell me an employee who worked for my father-in-law used to call Mary this. Still, I take credit for carrying this moniker into the modern century. I’ve never called her anything else.

I’ve always been big on nicknames. I call my family members by nicknames. I nicknamed my three-year-old niece “Uncle Lily” because when she first learned to talk she used to call me Uncle Sean a lot. My other niece, Lucy, is “The Poopfather.”

I started calling my wife “Jay Jay” a long time ago. My sister’s kids took to the name right away. They call her “Aunt Jay Jay,” and as far as I know they don’t even know my wife’s real name. Come to think of it, even I don’t know my wife’s real name, but I’m too embarrassed to ask.

I have nicknames for my dogs, my friends, the IRS, my vehicles, my guitar, and even myself.

But no nickname means as much to me as “Mother Mary.” It’s the magnum opus of nicknames because she is a special person. I have written about her a lot. And I get letters from people asking about her often.

I never knew how interested people were in Mother Mary until I once did a show in Pennsylvania and several people were asking me how Mother Mary was. That same year, I was at a huge book convention in New York City and a man appeared from the shadows and asked, “So, how’s Mother Mary?”

The truth is, Mother Mary is doing pretty good. Sometimes she has a rough time moving around, and she uses oxygen more often than she would like, but she’s great. And I wish I had half the grit she has.

She is every sophisticated woman you’ve ever met. She’s happy. Sturdy. Cheerful. A woman who has eaten the same fatty breakfast for seventy-nine years—eggs, bacon, and a stick of butter—and still has a cholesterol count so low that university scientists are beating down her door.

And she’s got a great sense of humor.

A good example of this would be the time that her caregiver, Robbie, was taking her photograph. At first Mary played it cool. Then suddenly, before the flash went off, she groped her own bosoms and stuck her tongue out at the camera.

And when we all recovered after nearly blacking out from laughter, we all ate some cholesterol together.

Actually, that’s what we’re doing right now by eating this barbecue.

Her nails are painted. Her makeup is flawless. I’ve never met anyone who wears her pearls to eat brisket. She could show June Cleaver a thing or two—such as how to grope her own bosoms.

Mother Mary says to me: “Do you remember when you started calling me Mother Mary?” Then she licks one of her fingers.

“Yes, ma’am,” I say.

“Well, maybe you could write about that some time if you’re ever looking for something to write. I like it when you write about me.”

I do too, Mother Mary.


  1. Dawn A Bratcher - February 2, 2020 7:09 am

    Hi to Mother Mary! She’s got it right…laughter is the best medicine. I am very happy for you, Sean, to be blessed by such a grand mother-in-law! Congrats!

  2. Sandi. - February 2, 2020 8:00 am

    Sean, sounds like you’ve got a jewel of a mother-in-law, and not evrybody is so fortunate. Count her as one of your many treasured blessings!

  3. Harriet White - Atlanta - February 2, 2020 10:17 am

    That’s wonderful. Hi to Mother Mary. ❤️

  4. GaryD - February 2, 2020 11:35 am

    Bless Mother Mary. She sounds like a swell person. You’ve surrounded yourself with a great bunch of folks, Sean.

  5. Naomi - February 2, 2020 11:41 am

    My nickname is Cookie. My parents ran a mom and pop grocery store in Birmingham, and the story goes that the cookie delivery man gave my parents a silver dollar when I was born, so they named me Cookie. My daughter wanted my grandson to call me Grandma Cookie but he couldn’t say it, so I ended up being called Mama Kiki and all of his cousins and friends call me Mama Kiki. My son-in-law calls me “Blue” because he said that my hair was so black that it looked Blue. My youngest grandson is called Trigger or Trig because when he was born, he was pointing his fingers like a gun. My husband has a dozen nicknames, one of them is Pee Wee or Pete; I don’t know how he got this name because he weighed 12 lbs. when he was born and when he was grown, he was 6’2″ tall and weighed 180 lbs. My late mother in law was called Honey. My late husband’s father died when my husband was 8 years old and he always heard his father call her Honey, so she ended up being called Honey and Grandma Honey.

  6. Trilby Devine - February 2, 2020 1:47 pm

    Sean, you’re garden is full of beautiful people because they are all loved! Mother Mary is a treasure!

  7. Connie Havard Ryland - February 2, 2020 2:04 pm

    We do too. We love reading about her. You love her and it shows. What a blessing.

  8. Richda McNutt - February 2, 2020 2:04 pm

    So do I – –

  9. Carol - February 2, 2020 3:47 pm

    I do too! I was telling Jamie, your wife!!thats her name !! Well I’m coming to see y’all at the book signing and there is a lot of stairs there and I have a walker now. And a tank of oxygen I have to tote everywhere.I can’t figure out how this happened,just a few years ago I was working at the bank,wearing heels, going out dancing and wham!!a wrecking ball must of hit me. !
    Sitting at home now eating my days away and watching TV!! My daughter and son in law take me out , usually to go and eat more.
    Debbie carries my tank and I follow like a puppy, in my case a old dog!!
    But to cut this short , we had a Mommie MAE
    , daddy Pete, my grandparents, then Mommie Dot and papa Guy my mom and Dad.
    I’m a Meme !!
    Well just thought I’d throw that all in.
    See ya soon.
    Love ya!
    P.S. I just remembered, we were disgusting Mother Mary and her walker and Oxygen.,and the pontoon! And that I’d get up those stairs some way!!🙏

  10. John Pritchett - February 2, 2020 4:43 pm

    Well, now I find out that you are a Baptist, so I forgive you for getting the Red Hair I always wished for!

  11. Small-town Southern Girl - February 2, 2020 4:44 pm

    “In days of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me, speaking words of wisdom, ‘Let it be’ “– written by Paul Cartney, remembering a dream he had about his mom (Mary) who had passed away when was a young boy. Your Mother Mary tribute reminded me of this beautiful Beatles’ song.

  12. Linda Moon - February 2, 2020 5:14 pm

    I would like Mother Mary. My late son-in-law is definitely not in Hell, because he never called me by my first name. He gave me the name that EVERYBODY in my family now calls me. I’ve met your wife a few times. I remember her real name, Sean — it’s JAMIE. She made a happy mistake with my “family name”, confusing me with a beautiful, young, long-legged actress. I sometimes add that mistaken name to my other one. But the family keeps forgetting the resemblance between me and Uma, so the other one sticks. Maybe Mother Mary can join you at an event and all us fans can meet her! In the meantime, keep writing about her! You and Mother Mary are Blessed to have each other!!

  13. Don - February 2, 2020 5:20 pm

    Sometimes you ain’t right in the head young’un. Thank the lord you got a Mother in Law like Mizz Mary to keep you straight. I sure miss mine. Love you Bro.

  14. Shelton A. - February 2, 2020 7:48 pm

    Thanks for sharing that about Mother Mary. You did real good with Jamie…good girl, great parents who love you. All you can for more is for Thelma Lou and Otis to eat one your hats (like my adopted chews on every pillow that’s been on the couch) and you’ll be in hog heaven. Writing about eating BBQ brisket…can you not share? lol Thanks as always Sean.

  15. Wanda - February 2, 2020 10:24 pm

    Love it❣️

  16. David B. - February 7, 2020 1:04 pm


  17. Steve "Gus" Winfield - March 10, 2020 4:36 am

    Get some rest! Thursday night in B’ham & we’re counting the minutes.
    Couple miles from the mall you’ll be at is Alfredos Italian. $6.99 lasagne can’t be beat. Never too crowded either. Across the street from Alfredo’s is a go cart rental. Indoor track 2 level. Big fun.
    Love you bunches!


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