Birthday Memories – Part 3

Mom knew it. She had literally moved into her living room. She did not want to die in the backwaters of a bedroom. She did not want to die on the bed she and my father had made love and dreamed dreams that neither lived. She did not want to die on the periphery of life. She wanted to be in the middle of the action. Her living room controlled all accesses to her house. She was the gatekeeper and planned to man her station until she literally dropped dead. A captain at her helm. With her CB radio scanning for police gossip, with practically every light burning, with her television running day and night, Mom wanted to feel the ebullience of life until the bitter end. She intended to watch Larry King Live until she took her last breath.

It was Christmas and this was both the last Christmas I would be with my mother on this earth and the first one I had spent with her for two decades. The juxtaposition of these two portentous events seemed strangely ironical to me. I had lost my mother only to reclaim her in death.

I was not proud of the fact that I had not been home for Christmas in twenty-two years. I had too many kids, too many bills, and too little income to justify a two-day trip from my Pennsylvania farm to Southern Arkansas. Besides, who wanted to leave the postcard, snowy Pennsylvania Laurel Highlands to spend Christmas along the dirty black railroad ties of the Delta? Who wanted to replace the pristine Mennonite farms of Western PA with the cotton strewn roads of Southern Arkansas?

“I want to tell you a few things, Jimmy (my name), before I join your dad,” she said. Mom never said that she was “dying” or even “passing away.” She was always going to join dad or Big Momma or Aunt Mary, who all had died many years ago.

My mother told me some stories that changed my history. Not that history changed–my history changed. Those hours, those days before she died changed the way I saw my past, and therefore my present and future, forever. I began to write this novel about my mother. But, while she has a ubiquitous presence in my life, I realized I was unqualified to write about her life. I could barely talk about my own. What I discovered really, was that this is a story about both our lives. Lives that would thrown together and torn apart in ancestral kinship, in hatred, and finally thrown together again in great love.

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