For at least 20 years, maybe 25, Mama planned her home-going to heaven. Not a week —and sometimes not a day —went by when she did not use her impending date with mortality in some way.
One day, when I had picked her up to go on a weekend trip, we got in a terrible disagreement over, of all things, chicken and dumplings. She was in rare form, so no matter what I said, she sassed back with something.
Finally, I said, “OK. That’s it! This is the last trip we’re going on together. The. Last. Trip.”
She turned her nose up and pulled the corners of her mouth down then replied, “I’d be ashamed if I were you. What if I died and this really was my last trip with you. You’d feel really bad. What would you say then?” She smiled smugly.
Mamas always think they have the upper hand when they use doom and death over their children.
Quick as a noon whistle at a mill, I replied, “Then, I’d say that I’m a prophet.”
That didn’t end the argument. As I recall, we stayed mad for a day or two before simmering down and moving on. Other than all the times she threatened to up and die just to teach me a lesson — “That’d show you a thing or two, little girl” —she liked to plan out her funeral.
When one preacher didn’t show her the proper respect by visiting as he should have, he was marked off the list as a participant in her final goodbye.
“He’ll miss that $100, I guarantee you,” she proclaimed.
As I recollect, he neither officiated nor attended. I guess that showed us all a thing or two.
But there are two things, in particular, that I think about often when I think of Mama and her look toward the grave. It was around Thanksgiving, when we were driving past a grocery store and saw a sign that advertised Duke’s mayonnaise “Two for $3.” I hit the brakes, pulled in and said, “That’s a deal. I’ve got to run in and get some.”
Mama opened her pocketbook and pulled out two crumpled dollar bills. “Here,” she pushed them toward me. “Get me a jar. That’ll be enough to do me ’til I die.”
Three months later when I was cleaning out her refrigerator after her departure from this earthly abode, I pulled out a half-full jar of Duke’s. I had to smile. She was right. She had enough to do her until she died and still had half of it left.
About six months before she died — now, mind you, she was in good, almost robust health — I went in the house one day and found her sitting, as usual, in her favorite recliner, the footrest kicked up on it. In her hands, she was holding an 8-by-11 photo. She was in her thoughtful pose, which was noted when she rested her thumb against her chin and let her forefinger settle on her upper lip while the rest of her fingers sort of dangled.
“Whatta you doing?” I asked.
“I’m admirin’ this photo that I had made at church for the directory.” She turned it toward me. “Ain’t that good of me?” She was full of admiration and, truthfully, rightly so. She had on a beautiful, deep pink suit, lipstick a shade darker, and her hair, teased to a bountiful fullness by Louise, was perfect.
“Yeah, real pretty.”
She held it at arm’s length, studying it in all its glory and said, “I had this made so that when I die, y’all can put this in a frame near the casket.”
I rolled my eyes and walked to the kitchen.
That’s exactly what we did. And it just goes to prove that if you threaten long enough to die, one day, you will.