I knew there was something familiar about this date, Jan. 20. Like a specter in the shadows inhabiting the back of my mind, it floated, suspended just out of reach of conscious thought. And then … I remembered.
A lot of time has passed since that “other” Jan. 20 changed my life. Exactly 24 years ago today, my mother drew her final breath in this world and went on to be reunited with her God, with my father, with her parents, brother and other relatives and friends who preceded her in the transition from this life to the next.
Memories of that day and the days that followed came flooding back. I and my husband and children were living in Middle Tennessee then. I had been agitated and uneasy all that day and when the phone rang that evening, instead of answering it, I picked it up and handed it to my husband without a word. Somehow, I knew without knowing what the message would be. The call was from my brother, telling us that Mama was gone.
The next few days were a blur, but I can remember how bad the weather was. An ice storm had hit, but we were able to get here without any problems. One of things that registered most was coming across the Cumberland Plateau the next morning and seeing how every twig and branch and blade of grass was encased in ice, shimmering like diamonds in the bright sunshine. The funeral service was on Jan. 22; burial in Forest Hill Cemetery was on Jan. 23. I have photos from that day — photos of the tent, the flowers, the gravesite, the dusting of snow on the ground. Photos of me with my brother and two sisters, grief etched across our faces.
Other memories come to me, as well, thoughts of when I was a little girl and how Mama would drive me nuts. Wear your coat, she’d say at the least hint of a chill in the air. Cover your head; use an umbrella; don’t climb that tree, you might fall and get hurt. I know I must have driven her crazy with my fascination with thunderstorms. Mama didn’t like storms and didn’t understand why I wanted to be outside in the thick of them. She didn’t let me go out, but I sat in the doorway or as close to a window as she’d let me get to watch the lightning play and the raindrops fall. All the while, Mama was fluttering around turning off anything electrical and shutting windows while chain smoking to calm her nerves.
When I became a teenager with a license to drive Jasper, Daddy’s old yellow Buick, the admonitions became even more intense. “Be careful,” she’d urge, grabbing yet another cigarette. Mama didn’t drive — it scared her too badly — and she probably was terrified from the moment I went merrily out our gravel driveway until she heard the crunch of tire on gravel headed back down the hollow. I didn’t quite understand all this until I became a mother myself.
After I married, I knew Mama was never more than a phone call away. We talked almost every day except for when I lived away from Blount County and phone calls had “long-distance” charges. Then we talked once a week, usually on Saturdays. It’s funny how I still automatically think, “I need to call Mama and tell her about this!” when something happens that I think she’d want to hear about, or when I can’t quite remember a recipe for a dish she used to fix, or when Tennessee plays football and I want to either rejoice or bemoan the outcome of the game.
Yes, Jan. 20 has brought back a flood of memories but also the realization of how blessed I am to have had my mother. The love she showed us all lives on. Isn’t that the greatest legacy anyone can leave?