“Mama wasn’t much for makin’ a fuss over herself. She was more into doin’ things for others. And the biggest thing she ever done for me was findin’ the guts to leave. It ain’t worth gettin’ into, but things weren’t goin’ good back in Oakman. And a lotta women woulda sat there and explained things away while they lived their lives the best they could, but Mama was brave enough to put her foot down.
“Wasn’t til I went off to play ball that I realized just how much she done gave up. She’d lived her whole life in Oakman. And once I went off to college, she was all alone. Ain’t none of her friends ever moved here or even come to visit. A few of ‘em even stopped callin’ after the move. For her, leaving Oakman was like leavin’ everything.
“She knew all that, though. Knew it when she begged me to take the scholarship, too. I woulda just as soon stayed here and found me a job and continued to look after her. But she done talked me into leavin’ and playin’ ball, despite how much lonelier it musta made her.
“After I blew my knee out, Coach asked me to join his staff. Mama said I’d be a fool not to do it. She didn’t want me comin’ back to Ardmore just to keep her company. She wanted me to live my life the way she lived hers – for me.
“It was this time last year when we found out about the cancer, and I came back right on the spot. And boy did she ever raise Cain about it.”
Cal paused to let the quiet laughter run its course.
“ ’Cause even though she lived her entire life for me, she fought tooth and nail to keep me from ever livin’ even just a part of mine for her. Once I finally did, though, she never stopped thankin’ me for it. Right up to the end. Just before she dozed off that final time, she grabbed my hand harder’n she ever had, sickly and weak though she was. She looked me square in the eye… and she said…”
Cal pretended to clear his throat, then looked down and rubbed his brow before refocusing on the mourners and steadying himself with the help of the podium.
“She said, ‘Cal, this past year your love’s been the best gift anyone ever gave me.’
“And I ain’t one to doubt my mama’s dyin’ words, but the way I see it, she’s the one who gave her own self that gift. ‘Cause it was her who taught me about love. And she did it without so much as ever utterin’ a single word.
“I love you, Mama. May God bless your sweet soul.”
Lauren sat in the back pew, unable, unwilling even, to stop the steady stream of tears. Only they weren’t for the woman she’d never met.
They were for the love she never knew.
Image courtesy of kdunham via Creative Commons