Easter Sundays have always reminded me of my mother and her endurance and her faith. Nearly eight years ago, on a Sunday, I suffered a stroke. I won’t go into all the details, only to say that at the hospital I felt my mother’s spirit with me. Two days later, I left the hospital with no impairments, and I continue to do well to this day. On this Easter Sunday, in honor of my mother, I’ve decided to share this passage from my memoir, Gone the Hard Road, which will be published in 2021.
Just this morning, I woke, imagining that I heard the sound of my mother’s wringer washer churning as I often did in our farmhouse on Saturday mornings those days when I’d yet to start school and had to spend the weekdays with my grandmother while my mother was teaching. The sound of that washer was a comfort to me because it told me my mother was home and would be all that day and all the next one, those blessed Saturdays and Sundays. Suddenly, I’m remembering how she called each load of laundry “a rubbing.” “I did three rubbings of clothes,” I might hear her tell someone at church. Three rubbings of clothes, I’d say to myself. Now, twenty-five years after her death, I say it again—Three rubbings—just for the pleasure of imagining her saying it, and it’s as if she’s just on the other side of the door. For a moment, I feel I can open it and step through a veil of time between my bedroom and the kitchen of our farmhouse where my mother is putting my breakfast on the table and telling me to bow my head. “Say your prayer,” she tells me, and because I trust her, because I believe she won’t let anything bad happen to me ever, I do. God is great, God is good. I say the words my mother gave me, her bonny child, her Sunday’s child. I say the words, and for a moment I’m blessed with faith, blessed because she’s left no room, no reason, for doubt.
There will always be a part of me that will wish for the certainty of the boy my mother taught to believe. Even now, seven years after my stroke, I say my prayers and want to believe that God watches over me, keeping me safe and free from harm. I can’t forget, though, that my parents’ faith, nor their prayers, could save them in the end. My father’s heart stopped while he was mowing the grass on a hot day at the end of July. My mother, who rarely gave into emotion, wept over his casket. Six years later, she died in that nursing home, surrounded by her brothers and sisters. I received the word of her death by telephone on a cold and snowy afternoon in January. As I drove north from Memphis that night, the stars came out, and I thought about my mother’s spirit and wondered where it had gone. I wanted to believe it lifted into the atmosphere, became an energy that found its way to whatever attracted it—to rivers and leaves, to other people, to clouds and the very stars above me, and other planets, maybe, and if that was the case, then why couldn’t it keep rising? Why couldn’t it exist in a place called Heaven? Even now, as I recall the uncertainty that my father’s anger brought us, I remember the way my mother told me to count my blessings, to keep looking up, to trust in what was to come. I do, I tell myself again and again in the days following my stroke, until the voice inside me is no longer mine, but that of someone I don’t know, someone I want to believe. I do, I do, I do.