One of my favorite childhood memories is of my Mama sitting on her bed and playing her guitar. She may have thought it was her own personal time to unwind with a song, but before she knew it she had three of her little girls climbing on the bed to join her.
Mama had a soothing voice and we could have listened to her sing and play all night, but we never let her stop playing until she sang a certain song in which we would all join in.
“Playmate/come out and play with me/and bring your dolly’s three/climb up my apple tree/slide down my rain barrel/into my cellar door/and we’ll be jolly friends forevermore.”
We would giggle with glee and sometimes act the song out… especially the second verse. “Playmate/I can’t come out and play/my dolly’s got the flu/boo-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo/ain’t got no rain barrel/ain’t got no celler door/but we’ll be jolly friends forevermore.”
I didn’t know what a cellar door was or even a rain barrel – we were city girls, but I loved singing that song with Mama and, when she would make a sad face and boo-hoo through the second verse, I would put on the saddest face I could.
My sisters were older than me and would sometimes have places to go on the nights that Mama had her guitar out. I learned many songs that were older than the kids my age usually listened to and I learned how to harmonize with Mama.
My favorite songs to sing with Mama were Anne Murray and BJ Thomas’ songs. Then she would pull out the more country genre of Jeanne Pruitt and Patsy Cline. I would sing the words to the songs and I didn’t understand their meaning. “Satin sheets to lie on/satin pillows to cry on/still, I’m not happy don’t you see/big long, Cadillac/tailor maids upon my back/still, I want you to set me free.” When we sang, “Raindrops keep falling on my head…” Mama and I would sing it in a round and it sounded pretty good.
When we sang the song, “You and Me Against the World” I felt that was about Mama and me. I guess a lot of the time, Mama was my playmate. I played with friends, played with my Barbies and even had moments of solitude where I would write poetry or stories, but I loved my time with Mama.
As close as we were, Mama still had a little girl who had an all-in-fun mean streak. Any chance I got to jump out at her from behind a door when she walked into a room or to put fake spiders around where it would scare her, I would. I loved getting a reaction from Mama. It wasn’t always funny – sometimes she would get pretty mad, but the she would see that I was being playful and that my heart was not really mean… I just loved ‘getting her’.
She let me try out my acting skills too. One Saturday night, I had a girlfriend sleep over and, after getting ready for church the next morning, we sat down to breakfast. When my friend said something funny, I practiced my “spit your drink” act with my milk and little white droplets sprayed Mama’s hair that was teased and coiffed. I think the look on her face was funnier than what I had actually done. I knew I was going to get ‘the what for’ that any Southern Mama knows how to give.
Mama has always been my best friend. She was my mother, but I could also tell her anything. Sometimes children work hard to please their parents and they may ‘shine them on’ and not want their parents to see their failures. I could always be myself with Mama. For some reason, I was the child who made my mistakes openly. I didn’t have to hide anything or lie because I always felt Mama’s acceptance no matter what.
She was my biggest fan when I would put on plays for her, read her a poem or sing for her. And even though I am 47 now she is still my biggest fan and reads every one of my stories.
Just as Mama is faithful to still be in my corner no matter what … I, too, am faithful in what she expects from me – the mean streak. Oh, I love Mama and I am good to her, but I still can’t help being playful and getting a reaction from her.
When the holiday issue of a magazine I write for came out a few days ago, I asked Mama if she wanted to go to the mall with me to get a copy. It was evening and Mama doesn’t normally like to get out at night, but she knew I wanted to be with her, so she complied.
I had put a vinegar-based tonic on my hair just before I had thought of going out, so I pulled my hair back and threw a hat on. Mama grabbed her sweater and we were out the door. As we headed to the mall, I realized how stinky the tonic was in a closed-up area and I asked Mama if she smelled it. She said no at first, but then said, “Now I can smell it.” I thought I would just run in real quick to get the magazine and come right back out, so I didn’t think I would offend anyone with my odorous hair.
I asked Mama if she wanted to go in, but she said she would just wait in the car. I locked her in so she would feel safe and I planned to just be a minute. The bookstore had not gotten the new issue yet, so I came right back out, but because it was dark - I could not find my car. I knew approximately where it was and headed toward where I had parked, but my black Jeep was camouflaged in the darkness.
I grabbed for my keys to press the lock button so that I would hear my horn and see the flashing lights. Yes… I knew.
I knew after just a few seconds of my plan that it may scare Mama… but I did it anyway. I kept pushing the button and the Jeep lit up like a Christmas tree and played a loud symphony.
When I came close to the Jeep, I could see Mama through the windshield and I was delighted to get the reaction that I wanted. She was looking all around her for the person that must be trying to break in and she had a worried look on her face. I casually got in the Jeep and she gave me ‘the what for’.
“JENNY! I THOUGHT FOR SURE SOMEONE WAS TRYING TO BREAK IN AND I WAS STUCK INSIDE! I DIDN’T KNOW WHAT I WAS GOING TO DO!”
I couldn’t help but to laugh as I pulled the deer-in-the-headlights look and replied, “What? I couldn’t see the car and I had to find it…” Then Mama started laughing because she knew it was funny. I didn’t tell her that I sort of did it on purpose, but I am sure when my number one fan reads this story she will give me ‘the what for’ again.
I think because I love to laugh that my mean streak has to do with getting people to laugh at themselves or a situation. I promise I don’t really harm Mama.
We stopped at the drug store because earlier that day Mama had gone to pick up her medicine at the drive-through and had stolen the basket from the drive-through dispensary. She didn’t mean to, but it was one of those ‘oops moments’ for her to laugh at herself for driving off with the medicine basket. When we drove up to the drive through, I returned the basket to the woman at the window and she laughed too. Isn’t laughing just great? It spreads from one person to another – our common thread … just like music.
As we headed home I told Mama I would try to get the magazine another time and that I was sorry that it was a wasted trip. Mama said, “Well, at least it was long enough to blow the stink off!” I had forgotten about my vinegary hair and that really made me laugh.
Mama and I have our ups and downs and sometimes, as I see her take another step toward her golden years, I get confused about what to expect from her. Sometimes I feel she is still my same old Mama who can understand me like a book – and then, I will see that there are times when she cannot grasp when I will reason or try to explain something and I will get frustrated with her.
Visiting with your mother and enjoying every moment you can with her is much different than living with her 24/7 and dealing with the roommate issues that you would with anyone and you have your occasional spats. If I didn’t live with her I would also think, “How could anyone ever get upset or argue with Mama?” I have always teased that when God calls her home, that I won’t let my sisters bury her. I told her that I will have a taxidermist stuff her so that I can keep her.
She is my heart and I am aware of what I have during this time. I enjoy the good times and the not so good times that I have with Mama – but especially, I enjoy the laughter. They say that laughter is the best medicine and as much as Mama and I laugh, she should be with me a good long time.