LESLIE CRISS: Birthday deserves parade led by 76 trombones

“Grown don’t mean nothing
to a mother. A child is a child.
They get bigger, older, but grown? What’s that suppose to mean?
In my heart it don’t mean a thing.”
– Toni Morrison, “Beloved,” 1987

A lifetime friend called my cell phone Wednesday afternoon. She’d meant to call my father. Julie’s a wiz in all things financial and has handled money for Dad and me through the years.
“You working hard?” she asked me.
“Starting my column,” I told her. “I think I’m going to write it about my mama – she’ll be celebrating her 76th birthday on Sunday.”
“Well, be nice, Les,” Julie said. “Remember, you wouldn’t be here if not for her.”
I think my friend’s admonition to “be nice” came from her own first-hand knowledge of how volatile can be the relationship between a mother and a daughter.
But I’ve realized in my advancing years my friends were right all those years ago: My parents are cool.
My mother has always given my sister and me the complete freedom to follow whatever life paths we have chosen.
I’m sure when I announced 20-something years ago I was quitting my teaching job and moving to California, my mother would love to have locked me in a room with a deprogrammer to erase that idea from my head.
But she did not. She and my father helped me move. She also made it clear I could always come back home.
There’s a quote lots of folks were cross-stitching back in the day that I always thought a bit trite: “There are two lasting bequests we can give our children: One is roots, the other is wings.”
Trite? Maybe. True? Absolutely.
My mother has also given unconditional love quite freely and quite abundantly. No matter what.
To me, that’s meant more than even the roots and wings.

I’ve given her a hard time through the years, retelling stories that have become a part of family lore. I’ve put my own spin on them, but today, in honor of my mother’s 76 years on this planet, I’d like to tell the truth.
The time she and I were headed to visit her parents in Arizona on a train? I’ve always told folks I woke up from a nap, all alone in our little couchette car and scared to death. The train was moving and my mother was nowhere in sight.
I was not yet 4. I know this because Little Sister had not been born.
It’s been fun all these years telling folks my mother left me on the train. Truth is, she walked down to another car to get something for us to eat.
I’ve also loved reminding her of the time she, my sister, my grandmother and I were all in the front seat of my grandmother’s red Rambler and Mammaw nearly ran a stop sign. She slammed on her brakes, and I lost my two front, top teeth when my face hit the dashboard.
In my story, both adults reached only for my sister.
In truth, I know our mama reached for both of us. That’s just the kind of mother she is.
Happy birthday, Mom.

Contact Leslie Criss at (662) 678-1584 or leslie.criss@djournal.com.

NEMS Daily Journal

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