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Mother Mary

My mother-in-law fell yesterday. She stumbled in the garage. It was bad. She smacked her face on the pavement. She busted her glasses. And her nose. When I found her she was bleeding.

“We’re going to the ER,” I said.

“I feel lightheaded,” remarked the white-haired Scarlett O’Hara.

“Yes, ma’am. Here, take my arm.”

“Wait, I need to brush my teeth before we go.”

“But you’re bleeding all over.”

“These shoes don’t match my belt, get my blue shoes from the closet, the sling-back heels.”

“But…”

“…And my lipstick, it’s in my purse. I need my pearls.”

Meet Mother Mary.

I’ve called her that ever since our first supper together. That was a long time ago. I remember the meal: rump roast, served with enough trimmings to make the table buckle.

For desert, we had pear salad—a half-pear topped with mayonnaise, shredded cheese, and a cherry. I ate every bite. but you should know: I’d rather lick a possum than eat pear salad.

I nearly choked.

Even so, that night Mary and I discovered we liked each other. She told me to call her Mother Mary. It’s all I’ve ever called her.

Before she was my mother-in-law, I visited once to take her daughter on a movie-date. Her husband answered the door with a twelve-gauge.

“Jamie’s upstairs,” he said. “Her mama and I are on the pier, fishing.”

Her daddy led me to the dock where Mother Mary was working a rod and reel. She started screaming, “I got one!”

Without saying a word, my wife’s daddy aimed the double-barrel at the water. He unloaded two explosions and ten cuss words.

It was a speckled trout the size of a grown man’s leg.

That night, we canceled our movie date and ate with my wife’s parents. Fried fish, hushpuppies, French fries, okra, and anything else her daddy could stuff into a deep-fryer.

I’m hard pressed to remember having a better time. And if I didn’t know better, I would’ve sworn these three people cared about me.

Then Mother Mary brought out pear salad.

Anyway, after our ER visit today, Mother Mary sat in a recliner with a bandaged face. Her wrist is purple, face swollen. She’s tired.

And she is tough.

This Bellville-Avenue Belle grew up in a time of cotton dresses, bare feet, and decency. She has survived a handful of dear friends, thirteen US presidents, and one late husband who fished with firearms.

Mother Mary has one titanium hip, crippling rheumatism, and an accent that sounds like Azaleas. She brings Brewton, Alabama into any room she enters. And anyone fortunate enough to hear her say at least three words often ends up smiling.

She can arrange flowers, paint with oils, write thank-yous until dawn, and sing any Hank Williams tune.

The doctors did CAT scans, X-rays, and other tests. The young physician remarked that he’d never seen a patient with cleaner teeth and nicer lipstick.

He didn’t even mention her pearls.

“I broke my glasses, falling,” she told me, covering her bruised face. “They were expensive.”

Glasses are cheap.

There will never be another Mary Finlay Martin.

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