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The merry month of May

Mugi’s voice had a rather raw edge to it.

Much the way of most of those who sang the ballads that our ancestors brought to the New Land. Her favorite was “Barbrie Allen” and she sang it so often that the words come bubbling up in my head from time to time.

“Mug, it’s Barbara Allen, not Barbrie Allen,” I would say. She would shake her head and keep singing of that hardhearted Barbrie Allen.

Perhaps, it was the sweet smell of honeysuckle or the tickling of buttercup “dust” on my nose or maybe the wild roses climbing the hogwire fence that brought Mugi’s words to mind – “Twas in the merry month of May when all gay flowers were blooming.”

How many times I’d heard her sing that line and it was my favorite. Really the best line in the whole sad story. As a child, if I thought about it, I would almost cry – the two of them, Barbrie Allen and Sweet William, lying dead in the churchyard. But I loved the line “Twas in the merry month of May” because May was my favorite month, except for December when Sandy Claus came.

In May we got out of school and that was reason for merriment. It meant that I could go barefooted, ride my bicycle, make mud pies and frog houses, catch tadpoles, lightning bugs and June bugs, go fishing, eat wild plums and blackberries and go swimming at Beck’s Mill.

The merry month of May meant the beginning of everything good in my young life. I was sorry about what happened to Barbrie Allen and Sweet William but I didn’t dwell on it. It was just a song and it was the merry month of May and all was well.

Over the years, May had been a favorite month. “For lo’ the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of the birds is come and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.” That’s from the Song of Solomon and it’s one of my favorite scriptures.

But then all of that changed. For it was in May that a Blackberry Winter came and my life has never been the same.

Mama had a doctor’s appointment. A follow up. She had gotten a letter from the doctor but there was nothing in it that indicated that anything was wrong. Mama had been losing weight and didn’t feel well. “It’s just old age catching up with me,” she would smile and say.

It was a bright, sunny day in May 1994, and all gay flowers were blooming when Mama and I started to Ariton for her doctor’s appointment. I opened the pantry door and got out an enamel berry bucket.

“On the way home, let’s run by Dean’s and pick some blackberries,” I said, as I tossed the berry bucket on the backseat of the car. “We can have a blackberry pie for Sunday dinner.”

Mama could make the best blackberry pies, actually they were more like deep dish cobblers with a slatted crust. Her blackberry pies ran a close second to her banana puddin.’

We laughed and talked with the others in the waiting room and finally, they called Mama back. It seemed that Mama was back there a long time and the sun started to sink. I knew if she didn’t come out soon she would say it was too late to go blackberry picking. “Snakes are always around blackberry bushes,” Mama would say. “A blackberry pie’s not worth getting snake bit.”

I didn’t agree with that.

Finally, I saw Mama coming down the hall. I sensed something was wrong. I got up to meet her. She didn’t say a word. She just walked right by me and straight to the door and outside.

“Mama?” she didn’t answer.

I caught up with her and took her arm. “What did he say, Mama?”

“Cancer. He said it could be cancer.”

We rode home with the lid of the enamel berry bucket rattling in the back seat. There would be no blackberry pie for Sunday dinner. We were entering a Blackberry Summer. It would be the darkest summer of my life. Unto all things, there is a season.

The merry month of May became a time to weep.

Mama died on January 14, 1995.

It was only then that I took the berry bucket out of her car. Mama and I would not go blackberry picking after all.

Today is Mother’s Day and, to borrow a quote from the late Lewis Grizzard, “Hug your mama today. I sure wish I could hug mine.”

Jaine Treadwell is features editor for The Messenger. She can be reached at jaine.treadwell@troymessenger.com.