O.Henry Ending

Please, Don’t go

But Mama knew best

 

By Cynthia Adams

When a comedian once quipped that his mother was a one-way travel agent for guilt trips, I laughed. 

Hard. Too hard. And wiped helpless tears.

Our Southern Mama was just such a travel agent. We never parted without her entreaty, “Do you have to go now?”  It didn’t matter how long the visit — two hours or two weeks. It was her notion of expressing love.

Although . . . evidence to the contrary suggested this was born of habit. Even the carpet cleaner and pest control man got the same plea.

This refrain was a quirk, a true blind spot for our mother, much like the one in her trusted Lincoln Continental, which drove more like a Sherman tank after years of surviving Mama’s handling. You just didn’t know that utility post was about to catch you, then there it was, pinning you into the driver’s seat and smearing the side of the car with creosote. 

Hello light pole

She gave her own mother-in-law, Hallie, a tongue-lashing (behind her back of course — Mama was a Southern lady after all) for “hanging on hard just when you needed to go.” 

Poor Hallie was once accused of hanging onto the car door of Mom’s former land yacht, a Madea-worthy white sled with burgundy top and opera windows — just as Mama was heading home for her soap operas. (A grandchild long believed Mama was saying, “showstoppers.”) 

Mama never dragged our grandmother as she held to the Lincoln. Now that would have been a showstopper. For Mama, you see, was usually antsy, in a hurry, whenever it was time for her to make a departure.

Until the end, that is.

Her own leave-taking took so long I began to view her as capable of staying as long as she damned well pleased.

But the professionals knew otherwise. Mama had withered. And after 91 years and diminishing appetite, she was disappearing.

She received hospice care in her final months. My younger sister, who can be intractable, never understood hospice. Bless her heart, (Southern code for myopic) she just couldn’t grasp Mama would eventually leave us.

Could we blame her?

Weeks ago, Mama celebrated a birthday. We gathered for lunch and performed, like we had once done as children. 

I loved to make her laugh, so claiming I had discovered an ability to yodel, I cocked my arms like a baseball pitcher and operatically filled my lungs. Rivaling Florence Foster Jenkins, I unloosed a hideous yowl. 

Mama winced and grinned widely, so, I pretended this called for an encore.

She shook her head, saying “You won’t do,” which is another Southernism loosely meaning, “outstanding foolishness.”

I returned to Mama’s bedside with my hubby two days later, and we sat with her before her momentous departure. 

She gripped our hands with a surprising firmness. 

“Don’t go,” she asked.

The next morning, Mama slipped away.

Only a week afterward, I witnessed a lunar rainbow. It was a luminous, tremulous, indescribable vision. Earlier that day, my brother saw sun dogs — yet another beautiful celestial phenomenon.

Despite myself, I found myself whispering to the night sky. “Please. Don’t go.”  OH

Cynthia Adams is a contributing editor to O.Henry.

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