Last week. I saw a young mother in the supermarket parking lot. Her kids were fussing. She had a toddler in a stroller who was howling.
Her attention was on the screaming baby, so she didn’t notice her fugitive shopping buggy rolling downhill.
I did. So I jogged after it and caught the cart before it smacked the door of a very white, very shiny, very BMW.
She gave me a quick smile and a frantic “Ohmygodthankyousomuch.”
The baby screamed another chorus of misery.
Then the mother buckled her three kids into an economy car—a vehicle with rust around the wheel-wells. When she did, she spilled her purse. It was one of those big beach-bag deals.
God love her.
She threw her head into her hands while her stuff went flying everywhere. She stayed like that a little while. I don’t know whether she was crying, but she certainly deserved to.
A few random strangers and I helped gather her things in the parking lot. I chased a runaway lipstick tube and mid journey, I was immediately lost in a time warp.
Because, you see, long ago I knew a woman like her. A single woman, a widow, who raised two kids on a shoestring, and struggled for every buffalo nickel.
The same woman who taught me to spell my name. To tie my shoes. And how to yes-ma’am and yes-sir my elders. A woman I called Mama.
I will never forget when Mama met a young Latina woman at her Wednesday Bible study when I was a child.
The Spanish-speaking woman was single, she had a partially deaf son, she lived in a dilapidated apartment, she worked many jobs. The woman had no car, and you won’t get far in a world of interstates and overpasses without tires. Nobody knew this better than Mama.
So Mama made friends with the woman. She carried the young woman to and from Bible study. They laughed together. Cooked together. They hung out. And sometimes when the young woman thought she and my mother were all alone, she would weep.
One spring morning Mama took me for a ride. We rode dirt roads until we landed in a salvage yard. An automobile cemetery on the edge of the Earth.
There were miles of brokedown vehicles surrounded by weeds and barbed-wire fences. The dead vehicles were organized by era.
A man in overalls greeted Mama, somewhere between the 1950’s and ‘60s. He led us to a three-sided barn where he kept an early ‘70s Ford Bronco—with corroded fenders and a spider-web cracked windshield.
Mama haggled the price for nearly 20 minutes. My mother was as shrewd as a Texan horse trader when it came to spending money. She used every milligram of her feminie wiles, batting her eyelashes, giggling often.
When the deal was done, Mama saved big bucks and handed him a wad of cash. In exchange, he begrudgingly handed her the keys.
Mama drove the old thing home and parked it in our driveway. That night, Mama made a big supper, she invited the woman and her family over.
When we finished eating, Mama took the woman outside and gave her a set of keys. She did not make a production out of the event. In fact, my mother hardly said anything more than “Here.”
The woman covered her mouth and gasped. “Dios mío.”
For as long as I live, I’ll never forget those wonderful foreign words.
Together, the two women cried for a long time. It was the hard kind of sobbing. The kind that comes from the belly. My mother never spoke of that night again. And whenever we bring it up, she changes the subject and asks how the Braves are hitting this season.
So anyway, a few of us strangers helped the young mother in the supermarket parking lot. We gathered her spilled things—her lipstick, a clot of sticky Lifesaver mints, her cracked cellphone.
Her kids were still hollering. She seemed embarrassed by it all.
She was too stressed to even thank her new friends. She simply drove away and God knows where she’s going, or what time she’ll get supper on the table.
I don’t know what her struggles are, or how she makes ends meet. I don’t know whether she feels like a failure, or whether she cries when nobody is looking.
But I know one thing: It’s hard work being a mother in this unstable world. And anyone who does it, and does it sincerely, deserves a lot more than one Sunday in May. They deserve the universe, the unabashed love of ten thousand lifetimes. Or at the very least, a Ford Bronco.
Happy Mother’s Day.