She would have been 98 years old yesterday. Born the second of four children to James and Bessie Mae Waddle in 1919, my mom would have been 98 years old yesterday. I often wonder what Mom was like as a child ... I have a picture of her as a little girl cemented in my mind based on a story from her childhood that she told me over and over again. She was wearing a long cotton dress covered by an apron, and high leather boots that Mom claimed took her a half-hour or longer to lace. As she did most days, Granny sent Mom to the hen house to gather the eggs, one of Mom's least favorite chores because it meant she had to get close to the chickens ... she never was too fond of animals. Mom always threw her head back and laughed when she got to that part of the story as she said, "Them derned chickens flapped their derned wings and tried to kill me every time I went in that derned hen house. Lord, help, I'm surprised they didn't manage to do it one time along the way. Them derned chickens were evil, I tell ya ... just plain old evil birds they was."
I'll spare you the details of the middle part of Mom's story, but on that particular day after gathering what she termed "a whole mess of eggs" into her apron, she carefully made her way back up the dirt path to the house. Not carefully enough, however, because, in her words, "Before I knew it, my derned feet had gone and slipped right out from under me and there I was just a layin' on the dirt with every derned one of them eggs broken all over me and my apron to boot. There was egg yolks just a drippin' everywhere and I just laid right there in that dirt and cried." I have a theory as to why that story stuck with me all these years and why it was the one that provided me with the picture of my mom as a kid that is seared into my brain. You see, most people who knew my mom knew that she was a tough lady ... many even referred to her as "a tough old bird," and I'd have to say that was indeed an accurate assessment. I think the reason why I've hung on to that image of Mom in her little long dress and her prissy white apron sprawled out on the path covered in goo from the broken eggs is because it's one of the rare glimpses I ever had of my mom being vulnerable. Even if that glimpse of her was one conjured up in my mind based on her recounting of the egg story, it's been a lifelong reminder to me that even the strongest, toughest old birds among us have times when they're weak ... times when they lose their footing on the dirty paths of life and suddenly without warning find themselves covered in egg goo.
For many years, most nights on my way home from work I'd call Mom and chat with her during my half-hour or so commute. We'd talk about all sorts of different things, and sometimes she would even tell me a story or two while I sat in rush-hour traffic. I didn't call her out of a sense of duty or because I was trying to be the perfect daughter ... I called Mom all those evenings because I wanted to call her. I wanted to hear that smile in her voice when she answered the phone and said, "Well I just knew that was you a callin'." I called my mom because I wanted her to know I cared about her ... that I loved her ... that I missed her. I called Mom because I wanted to know she cared about me ... that she loved me ... that she missed me. I called my mom because I wanted to call her ... I wanted to call her for her, and I wanted to call her for me.
I was wondering yesterday what Mom would be like if she were still alive ... no doubt she'd still be a tough old bird. She'd probably still be wearing those ugly track suits she loved so much ... she'd still be getting her hair permed ... her eyes would still squeeze shut when she laughed ... she'd still be waving her cane at me when she didn't like something I said ... she'd still be eating ice cream and tomatoes and fried okra and liver and onions. I miss all of those things about Mom but without question what I miss most are the conversations we had. Whether it was in the car on my way home from work or way too early on a Saturday morning ... "Well, Lord help, I done gone and forgot that you're on a different time zone than us here" ... I miss being able to talk to my mom. I had all those precious opportunities to talk to her, and then, in the blink of an eye ... and then there were none. No more chances to tell her how much I cared about her ... no more time to say, "I love you" ... no more moments to tell her how much I missed her.
As I left work this evening, my mind swirled with memories of another evening when I left work after a long day of proofing. An evening when I was already dialing Mom's number as I climbed into my car ... an evening when I told her I loved her and she said, "I do you, too" ... an evening when I had no idea that would be the last conversation I had with my mom. I couldn't help but think as I climbed into my car tonight how much different my life is now than it was on that evening a little more than 12 years ago, and I couldn't help but think of how much fuller my life would be now if Mom were still alive. There's something else I couldn't help but think about as I drove home tonight ... I couldn't help but think about how I would give everything I have to be able to talk to Mom just one more time. One more chance to say all the things I should have said to her before it was too late.
The bitter truth is that I had plenty of opportunities to apologize to Mom for the things I said and did that hurt her ... plenty of chances to be there for her and prove my loyalty ... plenty of times when I could have made sure she knew what a difference she made in my life. Plenty of opportunities ... plenty of chances ... plenty of times. And then ... and then there were none. Look around at the people in your life ... family, friends, co-workers, neighbors. Say the things you need to say while you have the opportunity... while you have the chance ... while you have the time. Don't wait until the then there were none, friends ... don't wait until the then there were none.