It must have been spring. The holiday must have been Easter. She was getting closer to her due date, and we were holding our breaths. Her previous miscarriages made this pregnancy especially precious. Being an only child of 9 years acutely intensified my desperate longing to have sibling. I would have done anything for her. At least I thought I would.
There we stood, just the two of us, in the aisle of the Dime Store as the local Woolworth’s was called. It was hot, and the store was empty. I still hear the quietness. Tall shelves were in the back of the store, but we stood near the short counters in the middle section. I held something in my hand, and she held something in hers. Mine was a purse, and I will never forget, hers was a silk corsage. The floral cluster was designed to be worn as a simple accessory on an outfit. It offered a touch, just a small delicate touch, for a woman who felt very large, very pregnant.
I did not understand all of that, no, of course not. I only knew I wanted to walk out of the store owning the item I clutched in my hand. To me, it made sense that we would both get what we wanted. Both, not either-or.
Without ceremony, without sermon, she said, “No. We can’t buy both. There’s not enough money. I’ll put mine back.” And that is what she did. We paid, we walked out, and we made our way home in the brown and white Pontiac. No one even knew what had transpired. But I never forgot. On Sunday I carried a small white straw purse, and she wore a simple, undecorated brown maternity top.
Now that I look back, I see she made a lifetime habit of putting hers back. She was consistent in selflessly putting my wants before her own. This beautiful woman is my Mother.
With seamless grace she has made the transition from one generation of relationships to another. As Mother, as Grandmother, as Great Grandmother, she just keeps on getting it right.
As a Mother, she is a model. Ask me how I know coffee with a hurting friend is more important that a to-do list. As a Grandmother she is loyal. Ask the teenager who needed foolishness not to be found out. As a Great Grandmother she is generous. Ask the little one who opens a birthday card to find $20 tucked inside.
Her secret? Love - love for the Lord, and love for people. Uncomplicated, simple, never-too-busy, straightforward love. Somewhere long ago she calculated love would involve sacrifice, putting hers back. Standing in the aisle of a store she modeled a message words could never articulate. Her actions have stood the test of time.
I wonder if she dreamed the day would come when we, her family, would all want to be with her, want to talk to her, want to get her advice, get her recipe, get her opinion, get her perspective. Somehow I don’t think so. That would have been too complicated. And putting it back isn’t complicated; it is a choice.
Mama, thank you. Thank you for then; thank you for now. I left with far more than a purse; I left with a lesson. I love you dearly for all the times you demonstrated love means putting it back.