August 10th of 1991, my mother’s 79th birthday. The first birthday I was near enough to visit in several, perhaps many, years. The 10th was on a Saturday. Kathy and I were in grad school at the University of Arkansas and neither of us had classes on Friday; coupled with Monday’s schedule we had a three and a half day weekend. I called mom telling here we would be down Thursday evening and to pack for a weekend trip. She was always ready to travel.
We went down into southern Arkansas, farms and pines, a small town here and there. Mom was a steady stream of historical comments. She was born in 1912. She was the first in her family, son or daughter, to go beyond the eighth grade. She went to St. Vincent’s Infirmary in Little Rock, Arkansas and became a nurse — a Registered Nurse, an RN; the kind that had a funny-shaped piece of starched cloth that she would fold just so and–Presto! She had her nurse’s cap. What I have long wished I had was her knowledge of plants and trees. She would combine her professional knowledge with some pieces of ground up “weeds” to make an ointment, a salve, a poultice. She made me a toothbrush from a Sweet Gum tree once. Now she was looking into the woods along the road as we drove I do not know where.
“Slow down,” she said as we drove down a shade-darkened dirt road. Kathy and I looked at the gigantic cottonwood trees and tall grasses alongside the road. We wondered what was on her 79-year-old mind. “Stop,” she said, “Yes, here,” added as if she could read my curiosity. She got out. We got out. She walked along the road, head half turned to the trees. She stopped, looked at me, smiling as she said, “Come here.” We followed her. She pointed, smiled again and said, “See the trail?”
“Yes, I could see a trace of a trail.”
We walked a few minutes and came to the edge of the woods. The trace continued along the edge of a recently planted field. She pointed to the next patch of trees a quarter mile or so away, “We would walk along here, then through those trees to school. School was about three miles from home.” The whole mom-is-senile thing vanished. She had taken us home; her home of sixty-five years ago.
We found some old buildings, almost hidden in a willow thicket–brambles and briers had grown into an impassable barrier. We bent and looked in. She said she didn’t think anyone had lived here since 1965–twenty-five years ago. I was sort of sure, but I asked, “Was this home?”
“Yes, this was home for my first fourteen years.” It was quite a voice; a whisper; a cracking with emotion; knowledge all the others are gone. We walked a bit more, but there was no more conversation.
We took two days to get back to where she now lives — not home, just an address; a place to pass time, years and days.
Three months and sixteen days later; five years and fifteen days after my father had died, I got the phone call saying we needed to come to Russellville for another funeral.
Twenty-five years and some have come and gone. We were given that last trip full of history, memories, and parental love.
Mother’s Day — a bittersweet happiness flows forth.
Happy Mother’s Day.