"When dawn spreads its paintbrush on the plain, spilling purple... ," Songs of the Pioneers song from TV show "Wagon Train." Dawn on the mythic Santa Fe Trail, New Mexico, looking toward Raton from Cimarron. -- Clarkphoto. A curmudgeon's old-fashioned newspaper column, cross-breeding metaphors and journalism and art, for readers in 150 countries.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Coffee with Mom on Mothers' Day

My tires crunched across the gravel lane at the Waurika, Oklahoma,  cemetery  this Mothers’ Day. It's my annual pilgrimage to Mom's grave, where I plant real flowers.
Every year I drive down to plant some flowers, to remember, to talk to Mom. I know she's not there, but that's where I talk to her.
This year, I brought scarlet and purple Petunias...it takes hardy plants to survive southern Oklahoma weather and the almost constant prairie wind. The south wind sweeps up the prairie hill west of the little town, full of memories, especially memories of the last years of her life.
It comes up out of Texas, across the nearby Red River, like she did to live with us years ago, Francis Faye Culp Clark.

Clouds scudded across the sky above  the little Jefferson County seat where we once owned the newspaper. 
I bring a jug of water for the planting, but for the first time this year, it wasn't needed.  Yesterday's storms  and those earlier than that have saturated the ground. Creeks were full, water was standing in fields, and when I used the trowel to dig, it sank easily and mud sopping with water came right up.
Today her gravestone is almost 35 years old, and it records her name and the years of her life.


The Culps--"Sissie, " ET, Mom, Ima, "Son,"  and Gladys
But it cannot record the life she lived, this child of East Texas, one of four sisters, now all dead, and two brothers, also dead. The girl who played high school basketball at South Park High School in Beaumont, the girl who got the good job with Ma Bell, and who helped the rest of the family through the Depression, the girl who gave baby brother—now deceased—25 cents a day for school lunch. It can’t record her marriage and the birth of two sons and the joy of holding and raising them. It can’t record the pride in their successes, the tears in their failures. It can’t record her love for grandchildren. It can’t record her strength in divorce, nor her sense of humor and most of all her unselfishness. Nor her faith in the face of death.
And I can’t either, except from too few memories, and looking back through black and white snapshots, and from stories my uncle and cousins have told me.
But I can imagine more now, as I watch my daughter—who looks remarkably like her grandmother--holding and feeding and cuddling and talking to and laughing with and disciplining her daughters and son. I see the eye contact, the touch, the strongest bond on earth, and I learn what I experienced—what every fortunate son and daughter experienced—before they could remember, but not before they could know deep in their souls.
I saw the same bond recently when a tall, 60-something  man slowly led his frail mother, by the arm,  into a restaurant to have dinner with her, listening to her chat away.
I wish I could do the same, but I can’t. But I will do the best I can. Today we talked about my brother and I, and our memories, and how proud she'd be of her grandchildren and now her great grandchildren, one of whom carries her name.

And we shared a cup of coffee, spiritually at least. Mom always loved coffee. Wish I'd shared more with her when she was here. I finished my cup, and told her I miss her, and I love her. And drove away down the gravel, out the gate to US 70.
I hope you can talk to your mother, face to face this Mothers’ Day. Don’t wait until it’s too late.  


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