from the archives*
She prefers to be called Mama, an echo from younger days with her five children, so that's what I'll call her here, now and again. She once told me after reading a column I'd written for Mother's Day, that I never have to buy her another gift. I'm tempted to take her up on it. Does that make such articles as this a conflict of interest? Shhh, don't tell anyone.
Mostly, such columns are about her gifts to me—appreciation for nature, music, literature, her bubbling awe for all creation--and this one is no exception. So gather round the hearth while I tell a story—rather, paint a picture--intended to warm the heart.
It was Saturday, Feb. 18, (2006), and I was glad to be driving into Knoxville for a group reading at Carpe Librum bookstore. Often on such outings, I'll swing by Mama's house, about ten miles away, and take her with me, a chance to catch up and give her a glimpse into different aspects of her middle child's life. I'd intended to do just that on Feb. 18, but time has a way of contracting in unexpected ways. So, running behind schedule, I drove in alone that morning.
The ride was snow-spangled and beautiful, and the reading left me buoyant. Several friends and acquaintances were at the bookstore, and I made the most of my morning. For one who works out of his home, it felt good to be out. One thing troubled me, though. I hadn't been around to check on my mother in a while. So, as I started my car in the parking lot of a restaurant where I'd stopped for coffee, I decided to swing by her place and look in on my way home. By the time I got to her house I was feeling sheepish. I pictured her sitting in a dusky room, alone and neglected, as I got out of my car and walked to her front door.
The porch leads past her kitchen window and some flicker of motion from the corner of my eye as I passed made me stop and peer into the familiar room, paneled in cedar.
My worries evaporated along with any stray traces of guilt, for there, framed in the window like characters come to life in a storybook illustration, Mama turned round and round with two happy friends. I see them as clearly now as I did three months ago: A little blonde neighbor, maybe six years old, with smiling elfin face, her slender form draped in a flowing dress. A black curly-haired dog with long bangs and a snub nose. And my beautiful, white-haired mother dressed in slippers, slacks and shirt. Her face alive, wide eyes and mouth laughing, feet dancing nimbly, turning her round and round. Her fingers were snapping and snapping to keep that dog, Oreo—fur and muscle and tongue and skittering feet--jumping and turning mid-air. He barely touched down before leaping vertically, bosom high to Mama, as he danced in response to snapping fingers of two good friends. Oblivious to the years and other superficial differences, youthful hearts made these three dance as one in this moment. And in this moment, I was absolved.
I just stood there on the porch and watched. A Strauss waltz played in the background from a 33 rpm vinyl disk atop a music box disguised as an old-fashioned tabletop radio. Some combination of my four siblings had bought that for Mama, maybe on her last birthday.
Standing there I basked in the moment, letting the picture gather and paint itself in my heart and mind. Oh the joy of their dance. Maybe five minutes I watched without interruption, before going inside where they greeted me with chatter and laughter before resuming a game of Chinese checkers. Well, the two actual human beings involved did. Then we had lunch from whatever Mama had on hand. It was delicious.
Tim and Amy, I'm happy to report the Shih Tzu you bought Mama was an inspired choice, despite that funny sounding name. She's dotty for that dog. You should hear her carry on. Well, I'm sure you often do.
Rebecca, Kathleen, Rodney, the old-timey looking music box works great.
Lord or Mother Nature, nice job on the joy for life you planted in Mama's heart.
She's passed along more of it than she even knows.
* A slightly different version of this column first appeared in the Knoxville News-Sentinel (Copyright by Don Williams, All rights reserved 05/12/2006.)
** At 79, Mama still gets around. We took a mile-long walk along a riverside arboretum, on Friday.