Today would have been Mama’s 63rd birthday.
It has been 10 years since she passed, but every year on her birthday, I think of all the things that we’ve missed doing together. It’s a very bittersweet day for me. Any day I get to celebrate the person she was is a special day, but it hurts deeply because it’s also a reminder that I’ll never get to know who she would have finished growing into.
Mama was an artist. She liked painting lakes and forests and rivers because that’s where she preferred to be. She was an crocheter, the yard sale Queen of our family, and had the longest losing streak at cards of anyone I knew. She wasn’t above tipping over the Monopoly board when she was losing or just bored of the games. She had a patience with animals and babies and flowers, and could make three flourish and grow with little effort. She raised children who were not her own, baked cakes for all my friends on their birthdays, and once called my high school principal a dick (to his face) when he tried to suspend for skipping class because I was in the bathroom having a panic attack.
She was also my best friend. The very best friend I will ever have. She covered my back to keep my out of trouble, held my secrets safe, gave me a soft place to land, and for many, many years kept me from harming myself.
I miss her. Sometimes it’s a dull miss. A forever tingle in the back of my mind that something just isn’t right with my world. Sometimes it’s a terrible miss. Some days I feel like the weight of her being gone is going to suffocate me. But I always miss her. Every day, every hour, every minute, every second. I miss her. I miss her. I miss her.
Mama wasn’t a reader but she turned me into one. From the time I was just a little thing, she was buying and reading books to me. Every summer we spend hours at the library. She encouraged me to pursue this thing that gave me such an escape when I was a sickly child.
So this post is for her.
Books that remind me of Mama.
This one has a funny story attached to it that Mama loved to tell… much to my embarrassment.
We had watched The Color Purple at my Grandma’s house one Friday night and I loved it. The next morning, Mama and I went to a church sale and I saw the book for sale. After whining about wanting it, Mom agreed to buy it for me to shut me up but had planned to put it up when we got home… I was like 7 at the time and it definitely was not an age appropriate book. I, however, would not relinquish the book and when we got back in the car, I started reading it out loud. To this day, I still remember getting to the part where Celie is describing having sex for the first time (“He put his thing in my…”) and Mama screeched “AMANDA LEANN!” which I knew meant I was in serious trouble. After she recovered from the shock of it, she started laughing… and I started bawling. She ended up taking the book and buying me a different one at the next yard sale. I still can’t read this book without hearing her horrified voice in my ear.
This was another one that we loved as a movie first.
When Grandma went through her Kathy Bates phase, we got sucked in, too. It wasn’t until years later that I realized this was a book and checked it out of the library.
I was half-way through when Mama realized what I was reading… and demanded I start over and read it to her, too.
When we finished, she said “It’s not the same as the movie… but it’s still good.”
Anne of Green Gables was the first book I truly remember Mama reading to me and this is where my love of Anne, Gilbert, and the Cuthberts began.
We only read the first one together which might be why it’s my favorite. I can’t read this book without hearing that slow Southern drawl I miss so much.
I’ve told this story before, but for the sake of this post (and in honor of my mom’s badassery) I’ll tell it again.
When I was very young, we were at my Dad’s parents house for Christmas Eve dinner. All of the grandkids received a gift from his parents… except for me. Their excuse was that they couldn’t find a doll who “looked like” me. The real reason was because they didn’t like me because I’m biracial.
I just remember my parents storming out. I was just a little kid, but I knew that I had been shunned by my grandparents yet again. Mom demanded that Dad stop “anywhere” to find me a gift to make up for what my grandparents had done (we all knew it wouldn’t make it better but it was something tangible that would take the edge off of everyone). The only store open in town was the newly built Books-A-Million and they were about to close. Mom went in by herself, pleaded with them to give her two minutes, and came out with two presents for me: a stuffed animal and Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone (a title that raised the eyebrows of my Pentecostal minister father). That bookish decision started my lifelong love for Harry Potter and really started my lifelong love of reading. I had enjoyed it before but Harry Potter was what really cemented me as reader.
She’s Come Undone is a hard book for me to talk about.
When Mama died in May 2007, I didn’t leave the house after the funeral for months. Even after my senior year started, I only went to school and then hid out in my room the rest of the time.
One weekend Grandma convinced me to go to a library sale with her and I found this book on a $.50 book shelf. It was a tattered copy with a torn cover, and the librarian actually let me have it for free. I started the book that night.
In the book, the main character loses her mother suddenly in an accident. While my mom died of natural causes, her death was sudden and seeing this character go through the same emotions, the same breakdown, I was going through broke something inside of me. I cried the entire time I read this book and then I immediately started it again. And again. And again. I read nothing but this book for an entire month, crying every time. But with each passing read, I felt stronger. All of the crying, all of the brokenness I felt, was cathartic. This book helped me get past some of the worst part of my grief and helped me break out of my isolation. So while Mama and I never enjoyed this book together, this book pulled me out of the worst slump of my life… something she used to do. I don’t care what anyone says, I believe finding this book was divine interference- a last gift from Mama to help me find my way out of the dark.
Happy Birthday, Mama.