COMMENTARY BY WILLIAM CARTER: How a sigh from your Mama can make you change your mind
By William Carter, Columnist
“Are you coming down for the Peanut Festival this year?” Mama asks me a couple of weeks ago.
I hesitate before giving my prepared answers, knowing, already, what affect my response will have on her.
“I don’t think so, Mama,” I blurt, kind of like yanking a Band-Aid off. “There’s a lot going on right now. We have to get Mac moved to his new place and Love-Weasel just started a new job and her schedule is different from before and my beets and Swiss chard are up and I’m scared the deer or Zombie Elvis will eat them if I’m not around and we just got new siding put on the house and I like to go stand out in the front yard and admire it every day and I was just down for the reunion so it’s not like I don’t ever come to visit and, uh, well, I don’t think I’ll be able to get away this year and…and…”
I trail off, a little embarrassed, well aware babbling doesn’t reflect well on anyone.
There’s always this hollow, four-second pause over the phone line that seems to last almost a year and a half after I tell Mama something she doesn’t want to hear before she sighs that patented Mama-sigh of hers; the one that makes me feel small and mean and ungrateful and as if every mama who ever lived – right at that very moment – just voted me The Most Small And Mean And Ungrateful Son In The World.
The sigh begins then ends a year and a half later.
“Well…okay,” Mama says in a whispery, distant voice and I, impossibly, feel smaller and meaner and more ogre-like than I did only a few seconds before. “Okay then.”
The thing is, I love my Mama and my many sisters and I love going down to my hometown for visits and would go see them a lot more often if not for the fact I hate…hate, not merely dislike…traveling and would seriously consider having one of my toes chopped off if given the choice between that and fighting traffic on the interstate for seven and a half hours no matter what the destination and the only way I’d fly anywhere these days is if the plane took off from and landed on the street in front of my house.
I have a friend who goes to Florida about five times a year – he loves it down there – and while I don’t understand it and have nothing at all against the Sunshine State and wish it and its inhabitants all the best, it does not change the fact I can get sunburned right here in Middle Tennessee free of charge with the added benefit of not having to deal with sand in the crack of my butt or suffer the strain and pain in my eyeballs from pretending not to look at half-nekkid girls frolicking in the surf while actually looking at them.
On the other hand, the long drive home always offers the sight of Mama standing on her front porch waving and grinning like a crazy lady when we pull into her driveway and red dirt roads and vast patches of kudzu and placing heads-up pennies on Daddy’s gravestone and people hollering “heeey” to each other and seldom-seen cousins and Mama-cooked, deep-fried food and storytelling and the block-long parade on festival day and new gossip and hugs from my many nieces and childhood flashbacks as I walk the same sidewalks I walked 40-something years ago and the smell of just-turned earth. So the long drive down to South Georgia is never really without its rewards.
But, not this year, though, I just can’t make it.
“I’m sorry, Mama,” I tell her, resolute, and then listen for awhile through 350 miles of wire to that loud silence emanating from the wall phone in Mama’s kitchen.
She sighs that sigh again…God help me…she sighs that sigh.
“That’s alright,” she says in a voice I have to strain to hear, “I know you have more important things to do…y’all ALL have more important things to do. I just thought you might want to see everybody…who knows when we’ll all be together at one time again? You have your own life…don’t worry about mine. It’s okay. Really…it’s okay. Don’t worry about me…don’t worry about me at all.”
By the time you read this, I’ll be heading south down to Georgia for the Peanut Festival this Friday, with all my toes intact…but only because I want to and am 52 years old and can make my own damned decisions without being swayed by my Mama.
If you happen to drive by my house this weekend and see Zombie Elvis prowling around in my garden, shoo him away, please.
Thank you. Thank you very much.
Posted on: 9/13/2012