One of my first memories of Mama is of her mopping the dining room floor of our tall old house on Dartmouth Street. I have no early memories of hugs and kisses, rocking and songs, snuggles and cuddles with Mama. My memories are of the homemade bread and cookies, the stiff Sunday dresses hemmed by hand with her perfectly straight tiny stiches, the freshly washed, wind-dried sheets that I climbed between on Saturday nights after my bath, my hair all in pin curls waiting to be unfurled for Sunday School the next morning. This is how Mama loved us, with the work of her hands.
Daddy was the one who knew how to speak the same love language I did. Words and notes, imaginative stories and silly songs, snuggles and cuddles and the back scratches that I loved. When I was nine he left Mama and he left us, and my heart knew the loneliness of a stranger in a foreign land where no one speaks her native tongue.
It wasn’t that Mama didn’t try. She worked her fingers to the bone trying, commuting almost an hour each way to work so we didn’t have to move from our hometown, our home, our school after Daddy left, still sewing, cooking, cleaning after the long drive home. But back then, I wasn’t bilingual, and I just didn’t understand what she was trying to tell me.
When I was in high school Mama signed us up for a Christian class that was popular back then. It was all about youth and their needs and training them in godly character. Something happened in Mama when we took that class together. She purposed to learn my language. She chose to try to change. I remember the day, us sitting together in that mustard colored Ford Maverick as she drove me to a babysitting job. She told me how much she loved me, how proud she was of me. She wasn’t very fluent and it all seemed a bit unnatural and awkward, but I remember that day. I remember.
Through the years Mama expressed her love more and more with words, with hugs, and yes, still with the best homemade bread I have ever tasted. When the grandbabies came along, then the great grands, and then even some great-great grands, she loved them lavishly with her words and her hugs and her kisses. Mama chose to learn, to try, to change, and she did.
Eight months ago my brothers and sisters and I, and many of our children and their children, surrounded Mama during her last hours on earth. Her last words were words of love. Her last actions, hugs and patting us with her frail little hands. Mama left us all with a legacy of hope, a legacy of promise. She taught us that, with God’s help, it’s never too late to change.