Chris always jokes that his two sisters should move back into his mother’s house because they talk on the phone far more than he understands. At the very least there is a daily phone call, many times more. And between the three of them they don’t miss their daily chats just because there might be a family gathering planned for later in the day. “I don’t know why they ever moved out,” he’ll say. “You’re penis has everything to do with why you’ll never understand,” I reply. And for this reason I am always so thankful that I don’t have one – a penis (although I have a fully detailed master plan for what I would do with it if I could have one for just a day.).
Like Chris’ sisters, I also talk on the phone with my mother daily. Most days we talk twice and sometimes more, these apart from our noon lunch dates and occasional evening visits. Those, however, are just on the weekdays. On the weekends it is not unusual for Mama and me to talk on the phone far more than that. In the mornings our talks are usually about how we slept the night before and what our plans are for the day. In the evenings we chat about how our days played out and what our plans are for the evening. Our second evening phone call is usually to share something we saw on T.V. or on Facebook. There is always a lot of laughing, sometimes until we’re both in tears or until one of us nearly pees ourselves. These talks are my soul food. If there is a day that goes by where Mama and I get off schedule and miss a phone call or two, I’m left discombobulated. My world seems off kilter. I imagine Chris’ sisters feel the say way.
My world was turned upside down for an entire week the summer before fourth grade. Mama had arranged for me to spend a week at camp. This was before everyone, including fourth graders, had mobile phones. I think we had one in our car by then, mounted on a pole in the passenger floor board but my sister and I were threatened within an inch of our lives every time we got into the car not to touch it. I think Mama was afraid that just by lifting the receiver it would cost her the $8.99 per minute cell phone providers charged back then. But I digress.
There would be no daily phone calls from summer camp so along with my bathing suit, changes of clothes, toiletries and bed linens, Mama packed for me a girly stationary set and a sheet of stamps so I could write home. After my first full day at camp I could not wait to sit quietly in my bunk and put pen to paper and tell Mama about my day. I sat with my legs crossed, using a Bible to bear down on, and wrote a quick note to say hello and that I loved and missed her. I slid the folded note card into its matching envelope, addressed it to Mama and sifted through my suitcase for a stamp to lick and affix to the envelope for mailing. My heart sunk when I realized my sheet of stamps was missing. They shouldn’t be hard to spot, I thought, so I started again and went through my suitcase a second time, more careful and more deliberate than the time before. I knew exactly what I was looking for – a sheet of 20 or so stamps, perforated on the edges for easy tearing, slightly sticky on the back so with a quick dampening of the tongue they’d stick right to an envelope. Nothing. I searched a third time and a fourth. “Has anyone seen my stamps,” I asked my cabin mates. Nothing. Defeated I went to bed planning to look again before breakfast the next morning. And so I did. The next morning searched again just before my cabin mates and I headed to the camp post office to drop off our mail. With no stamp all I had was an envelope, stuffed with girly stationary and on it my daily chat with Mama. My world was off kilter.
On Tuesday when we made our stop by the camp post office, to my surprise I had mail, two pieces to be exact. One, a #10 envelope addressed in a beautiful handwriting I knew all too well – Mama’s. The second, was a black and red envelope adorned with a Scotty dog. This one was addressed to me in handwriting I also knew well. Much less beautiful than Mama’s, larger print, and an odd mixture of capital and lowercase letters written in lines that sloped to the bottom right corner of the envelope. This one was from my little sister. Excited that I’d received mail; my heart sunk when I read both letters. “I hope you are having fun. We miss you. Write back.” I grew teary reading them because while I could write home, I could not mail the letters. I still could not find my stamps. On Wednesday, I received letters reading much the same way. But this time they said something like “PLEASE write and tell us how camp is going.” Their pleas grew. By Thursday the letters read “Why haven’t you written home? We miss and love you very much and want to hear about your time at camp so far.” I wanted to scream, “I’VE LOST MY STAMPS. I’M NOT IGNORING YOU. I LOVE AND MISS YOU TOO.” Maybe they would hear me. Instead I just cried.
As the remainder of the week passed by, I still couldn’t find my stamps and the letters kept coming – each growing with what I interpreted as desperation for me to write home. Perhaps I perceived their pleas for me to write as desperation because I was so desperate to find my stamps or at least tell my Mama I’d lost them. So when the last day of camp arrived I felt a sense of relief. The day had finally come that I could tell Mama that I loved her too, that I wasn’t too busy to write, that I wasn’t having too much fun to write, that I wasn’t ignoring her, that I missed her so, that I’d simply lost my stamps and that my world had been off kilter for an entire week having not been able to tell her those things. I spent the morning packing my belongings back into my small suitcase, anticipating Mama’s arrival to take me home. In a rush, I pulled the sheets and blankets from my bunk and balled them up, attempting to stuff them into my suitcase as is but when I realized they wouldn’t fit, I resigned myself to the fact that I was going to have to fold them. I folded the sheets first, saving the queen size knit blanket for later since I needed a second person to help me. When my cabin mates were finished with their own packing, I asked one to help me fold my large blanket. We each took two corners and folded the blanket in half and when we did I found stuck to the underside of my blanket my sheet of stamps. For an entire week I’d been sleeping with my only means of communication with Mama. I’d cried, I’d begged for stamps, I’d tried to purchase stamps from the always closed camp gift shop, I’d prayed to find them, and I’d cried some more and my stamps were there the entire time.
I was only 10, or so, when I went to camp that summer but that week taught me one of the most fundamental lessons of my life. My mother is my best friend and I hate going even one day without talking to her.
My mother has seen me at my very best and my very worst. She has loved me more than any single human being on this planet during times when I didn’t deserve to be loved at all. When all else in my world has fallen apart, my mother somehow made everything okay. In times of triumph, she has been my biggest cheerleader, my most passionate encouragement. She has been my truth when I refused to see the sun shine through the storm. She has been my sounding board, my confidant, my light on my darkest days. And on her darkest days she suffered quietly and remained strong for her daughters – her family. My mother is brave. She knows sacrifice all too well, far more than I am comfortable with because her sacrifice has been for me. She has never asked for anything in return.
I could never find the right words to express my gratitude to my mother, my best friend, so I’ll simply say thank you. Thank you, Mama, for all of the tears you cried for me and for all of the nights you stayed awake with worry. Thank you for the last piece of cake even though you really wanted it. Thank you for all of the prayers on my behalf and for each night you tucked me into bed then watched me as I slept. Thank you for wiping tears and rears and for every cool wash cloth you prepared for me when I was sick. Thank you for birthday morning muffins and Christmases I will never forget, even in the lean years. Thank you for feeling my heartache in your bones and always knowing the right words to say. Thank you for the new pair of shoes even though you needed a pair more than I did. Thank you for taking me to church and for Sunday dinners at Grandma’s. Thank you for letting me play Scrabble with the adults and allowing two letter words. Thank you for giving me the freedom to make my own choices, even when you knew they would be the wrong ones. Thank you for allowing me to learn from these mistakes. Thank you for our daily phone calls, our laughs, our shared self-deprecating humor, and our poop stories. Thank you for never being too far away. Thank you for all of the times you said “When you’re a mother you will understand.” Thank you for giving me hope that a daughter is simply a little girl who grows up to become a mother’s best friend – I can’t wait.
Happy Mother’s Day, Mama.
I love you.