~ Atticus Finch, in Harper Lee’s, “To Kill a Mockingbird”
I remember Mama’s king-sized bed, indoor playground for a child.
Its headboard, a garish marriage of gold leaf and carved pressboard, was a perfect balance beam for size one feet. My sister and I would mount it from the gray, four-drawer metal filing cabinet off to one side, scale its length with the wall as our never-miss “spotter”, then dismount by tip-toeing onto the bedside table, or in adventuresome moments, cannonballing onto the middle of the mattress.
The bed was a slippery splash of polyester and pink roses, the embodiment of beauty and sophistication and style to my little girl eyes. Adult eyes recall 60’s synthetic delusion.
Atop her rose garden refuge one day, lying on her side and playing with my baby brother, her world stopped spinning: she discovered a lump in her breast. Some might have dismissed it or not noticed it at all. My mother didn’t have that luxury–breast cancer had taken the life of her mother when my mom was just a baby.
Her diagnosis was confirmed, and her prognosis? A death warrant. Given less than a year to live, she was now on borrowed time.
~ G.K. Chesterton
Mama grew up in rural Georgia and circumstances early in life calloused her with determination and strength. She was stubborn and feisty and deliberate. A sweet friend of mine once said, “I had cancer but it didn’t have me.” That’s how mama faced it, too. Obstinately shaking clinched fist in the face of the demon, she vowed to live five more years so my brother…her baby…might capture memories of her, memories she never got to enjoy with own mother.
It horrifies me to think about what Mama endured; not long after her diagnosis, she and my father divorced and she retained custody of me and my sister and brother. Treatments were barbaric 35-40 years ago, and throughout her illness she had five major surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation.
I have vivid memories of standing at our apartment window that overlooked the parking lot, waiting on her return from the hospital where she often went when the pain was unbearable. She was addicted to pain medication and my father threatened to take us away if she didn’t undergo electric shock therapy, the recommended treatment at the time.
And so, she did it…for us.
Upon learning this only in recent years, I remembered that scene from “A Beautiful Mind” and I cried.
~ Mark Rutherford
I never recall Mama complaining. I don’t remember seeing her cry.
I do remember her telling my sister and me about the birds and the bees, and I remember the day she wrote her will; I think I was flipping over the sofa and my sister was sitting nearby (probably more cognizant of what we were doing) and somehow Mama managed to do this without falling apart.
She did that for us, too.
Mama had nine years to train and teach me, shape and guide me; nine years to impress upon me the things most important to her; nine years to brand her legacy.
Watching her then and lingering over a backwards gaze through time, I marvel at her courage. I never knew if she was lonely or scared or angry at her circumstances, but I did know she loved us fiercely and her faith sustained her. One of my favorite gifts I received from Mama was my sterling charm bracelet; the most beloved charm, a glass-encased mustard seed reminding me that a little faith could move mountains.
~ John F. Kennedy
Mama died months after my brother’s fifth birthday, fulfilling her vow and leaving him a collection of memories.
When I think of “courage”, glimpses of cowardly lions and military heroes come to mind for a moment; yet ultimately, the most courageous person I’ve ever known is the Steel Magnolia who gave me life and faced her own death with uncommon valor.