C I V I L    M A R R I A G E    I S    A    C I V I L    R I G H T.

A N D N O W I T ' S T H E L A W O F T H E L A N D.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

In Memoriam: My Mother

Mama's favorite photograph of herself, taken about 1945, and much later hand-colored by a photographer friend.  She is seated in a restaurant or nightclub in San Antonio, where she spent the happiest days of her life.

It seems very strange to say that today would have been my mother's 90th birthday. She has been gone to a better land for nearly two decades now, and still I think of her every day, things she said and did, and lessons taught, and laughter shared. I miss her more than I can tell you, fellas; nor can I possibly describe by any number of words the vast, unfillable void that was left when her steady, inexhaustable, and incompassable love was taken from me.

My mother's smile was like the sun in the high blue sky of summer, and her laughter a very song of cheer. Dark indeed was the day when the last of those smiles faded from out this world forever.

It is very difficult to write about Mama. We were very close, and for the last twenty years of her life, when she was in a long, slow decline of health and abilities, but never of spirit, I made a home for her, and cared for her to the last. I wished then and I wish now that I had been able to do all of that better, but though my talents were and are regrettably small, I did all that I could do, and she never lacked for the necessities of life, and enjoyed a number of small luxuries, and all the comforts that filial devotion could supply.

Nor did I ever ask so much as a dime's worth of help from anyone, though mayhap I staggered sometimes under the heavy load of responsibility, in the days of youth when others cavort and sport about as free as the birds of the air. Your Head Trucker is a true son of the South, with an ancient lineage he has traced himself, and far too proud to beg. What my labors could not supply, we did without, though it meant hardship and poverty for a time; but somehow we endured all that together, and prevailed.

The one thing that was never in short supply in our home was love, with which we were abundantly blessed, pressed down and running over. To Mama, who bestowed it so extravagantly to those who could receive it, love was always the prime thing in life, and thus very naturally to me also, with unshakeable loyalty besides.

It was hard sometimes - very hard, I must tell you, both financially and in other ways as well - but it was my duty, and mine alone, being an only child, and I am proud to say that I did it, well or ill as the case may be, regardless of the cost to myself. And it was a duty of love and devotion that I was glad to pay - as I had promised my father I would. She died a little before the morning of a new day dawned, holding my hand while I briefly drowsed, exhausted from keeping watch all through a long, terrible day and night: but which of us was leading the other, and where, I cannot say.

Unlike your Head Trucker, who as a rule is more diffident and reserved - except when roused to anger, and then it's Katie bar the door - Mama had the sort of warm and generous personality that easily made friends wherever she went. Beautiful, even glamorous in her youth (as other relations have told me), while she was very much a lady of the old school - and one of the dauntless Texas variety, who flinch not under the lash of adversity, nor shrink from any needful task, no matter how hard or menial - she also had the common touch, and no one was too humble for her to befriend or succor. Indeed, though she had grace enough, and regal charm as well, to walk with kings and princes had occasion offered, her own humility of spirit was perhaps her chiefest virtue.

Now what I am about to say, perhaps only my fellow Southerners will completely understand, and as for the rest of you, I beg your indulgence here for a moment: the faces of children, aged folks, and black people all lit up when Mama was present among them. For each of those groups are in some sense of the word marginalized, and often not quite as respected or as valued as they should be by some in society. But Mama spoke to each of them as equals, not inferiors, which they all recognized at once; and lightened many a heavy heart thereby, listening to their troubles and cheering them with laughter and merriment, compassion and understanding. And so she was beloved by many.

Though her step and her smile made her the cynosure of male attention everywhere she went, even into her seventh decade, men sought her friendship and her counsel too; for she was smart and savvy, full of earthy pragmatism and great common sense, and indeed was more often to be found playing poker with the boys than having a coffee klatch with the girls; though of course she had any number of girlfriends over the years who depended on her good sense and listening ear.

But though Mama was generous to a fault, she was not one to suffer fools gladly, nor fraudsters either, nor yet the two-faced and the hypocrites, for whom her especial despite was reserved. With but a single glance, it seemed, she could read people like a book, even total strangers: an uncanny ability, I always thought. Though at this late age, I begin to see that some of it is a function of age and experience of life. And always she favored mercy over justice, and especially to the underdogs and outcasts, the poor, the lonely, and the forgotten of the world. Many, many are the jewels in her crown, I have not the slightest doubt.

I would like to write more about my darling Mama, whose memory lingers yet, sweet and fragrant, all around me, and comforts my heart. But there is so much that could be said, I should hardly know where to begin or end; and it breaks my heart to recall the undeserved sorrows and unavoidable tragedies of her life. Would that she had been as rich in the goods of this world as she was in the riches of the spirit; and would that her great choices in life, especially in the men she loved, had been happier ones. To love well she knew, to choose wisely, not; but nevertheless spilled every drop of the alabaster jar, loving without stint as far as all hope lasted, and then some.

And if across her human failings, in common with all the daughters of Eve, in filial reverence I draw the veil of Oblivion, I think none will dare reproach me, for it is meet and right so to do; as we may all piously hope that a merciful God will do for our own offences when we come to judgment. Our Lord said that to her who loved much every sin is forgiven, and in that kindly assurance of pardon may she rest in peace and rise in glory, and all we besides.

So I can say no more here but to heap honor upon her memory, and join praise to her name, which for me shines always foremost among the company of heaven with whom the faithful join their voices in thanksgiving to God, always and everywhere. But I will share with you a little thing that is so very like my beautiful, gallant, vivacious Mama, who passed down her love of the Rubaiyat to me. Here are the concluding stanzas of that exquisite poem, and very fitting they are today, as you would certainly agree if you had known my wonderful, incomparable mother:

Yet Ah, that Spring should vanish with the Rose!
That Youth's sweet-scented manuscript should close!
The Nightingale that in the branches sang,
Ah, whence, and whither flown again, who knows!

Would but the Desert of the Fountain yield
One glimpse--if dimly, yet indeed, reveal'd,
To which the fainting Traveller might spring,
As springs the trampled herbage of the field!

Would but some wing'ed Angel ere too late
Arrest the yet unfolded Roll of Fate,
And make the stern Recorder otherwise
Enregister, or quite obliterate!

Ah, Love! could you and I with Him conspire
To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire,
Would not we shatter it to bits--and then
Re-mould it nearer to the Heart's Desire!

Yon rising Moon that looks for us again--
How oft hereafter will she wax and wane;
How oft hereafter rising look for us
Through this same Garden--and for one in vain!

And when like her, oh, Saki, you shall pass
Among the Guests Star-scatter'd on the Grass,
And in your joyous errand reach the spot
Where I made One--turn down an empty Glass!


Larry said...

You were (and are) a good son.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Russ, what a beautiful tribute to a beautiful lady. And it sounds as if, as they say in the fairy tales, she was as good as she was beautiful. She is stunning in her black dress and pearls. I see why the picture was her favorite. The excerpt from the Rubaiyat is the perfect finishing touch. Lovely.

Davis said...

It's something you never really get over. She was blessed to have a good son, like you Russ.

Tim said...

Russ, you are you Mother's son, don't doubt it!

Russ Manley said...

Thanks, all of you, for your kind words. I tried to be a good son; I hope I was.

Mimi - "As good as she was beautiful" - yes, in all the ways that truly matter.

Wolf Warren said...

You went above and beyond in many ways. The Golf Cart, Chicks at Easter, and so much more. Know that here Grave is kept clean, and trimmed. I go often.

Russ Manley said...

Bless you for that; I wish I could.

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