You never know when Mama will come by

Published 9:38 pm Friday, May 9, 2014

Mama came by yesterday.
I was putting out a few bedding plants when she came.
It was one of those late spring afternoons when you just want to get your hands in the dirt. A soft breeze was stirring, the sun was sinking and casting long, cool shadows across the yard. Birds were chirping and a couple of squirrels scampered up and down the aging pecan tree.
I didn’t hear Mama come up, but I felt her presence, just as I had so many afternoons of my life.
But I didn’t turn.
I didn’t want to face the reality of the emptiness that her death has left in my life.
I just wanted to stay there where Mama was as fresh in my memory as the dirt I had turned … as fresh as the sweet smell of the honeysuckle climbing the backyard fence.
Funny, how the senses can bring back a memory so vivid and real that it takes you back to a place in time where you long to be.
My senses took me back to a place when Mama’s arrival would be announced by the familiar whirring of her “little ol’ car.” She’d get out and come around to the backyard where I’d be piddlin’ in the yard.
“Don’t let me stop you,” she’d say.
I’d stop anyway and we would climb the steps and sit on the back porch and talk and laugh until her watch told her it was about time for her show, “Wheel of Fortune.”
I sat there in memory, daring not to move for fear that she would move away from me.
I don’t ever know when Mama is coming by, usually when I least expect her. But she always comes when I need her to be there … and always at blackberry picking time.
“I’ve gotta run back in the house a minute,” I said that afternoon in late May 1994. “I’m want to get a bucket so we can pick blackberries when we’re done.”
Mama and I were on the way to Ariton for a follow-up to her doctor’s appointment the week before. 
“Somebody said blackberries are ready at Dean’s Blueberry Farm, we’ll pick some,” I said, already envisioning one of Mama’s blackberry pies with a slatted crust with butter bubbling around the slats.
As usual Dr. Zumstein’s office was packed, mostly with hypochondriacs. At long last, the nurse called Mama back, leaving me to wait in, what we liked to call the gossip parlor.
There was no reason to be concerned. The letter from her doctor didn’t indicate anything. Mama ate like a bird. Always had. That was reason enough for her to be losing weight.
But when she came out, she didn’t look at me. Instead, she walked straight to the door.
All of the blood seemed to drain out of my body. “Mama … ?”
She didn’t answer.
“What, Mama?”
“Cancer,” she said in a whisper.  “It’s probably cancer.”
With that one word, my whole world stopped. At the very moment, my blackberry winter began. Never has there been such a cold, dark day when sun should have been shining on the blackberry blooms. Never has there been such a blackberry winter.
We sat there in the car with the blackberry bucket between us. We would not pick blackberries that day.
Angry and hurt, I tossed the blackberry bucket over in the back seat. The handle clanged against the tin.  The sound of emptiness is so loud.
The blackberry winter turned into summer, fall and then winter.
All the time, the bucket waited there on the backseat of Mama’s car, waiting for us to go blackberry picking.
Mama died, Jan. 14, 1995. She would have been 76 years old on Jan. 15.
Some time later, I took the bucket out of the car.
I’ve never picked blackberries again.
Today is Mother’s Day.
To borrow from Lewis Grizzard, “Hug your mama. I sure wish I could hug mine.”
But, then, maybe she’ll come by.
Jaine Treadwell is features editor of The Messenger.

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