Home Grown

Mama Buys a Horse

To have and to hold the reins

By Cynthia Adams

After decades of a volatile marriage, Mama had had enough.

Their Richard Burton/Liz Taylor stalemates were nuclear — often ending with bling. She loved jewelry, and Daddy liked extravagant gestures.

Our cash-strapped father loved land, cars and antiques. Once, he bought an Elvis Presley pink Caddy, then a horse-drawn carriage, displacing Mama’s Lincoln.

Her passions were big cars and hair and fashion.

My parents had eloped as teens, hiding the marriage license under the living room rug. When Mama developed a baby bump, they pulled back the rug.

They produced five young’uns. Daddy bought farmland — and baubles, pacifying Mama, who hated debt and his roaming eye. Arguments were the soundtrack to our childhoods.

Decades of stress, gravy and biscuits did their worst. He developed gout, “sugar,” and angina.

Mama developed breast cancer like her mother before her. Daddy, distraught, railed about disfiguring mastectomies, convinced of “laser alternatives.” She chose to excise it.

What couldn’t be removed was a metastasizing sense of betrayal.

Mama believed she had kept up her end of the marital bargain — at least all but the “in sickness and in health” part, which Daddy was failing, too.

She accepted a job assisting an elderly couple, packed up the Lincoln, and she and her best friend, Linda, left their husbands.

The left-behind men were a mess.

Daddy was bewildered. Their longstanding, unwritten contract was that if he capitulated, she was mollified.

A divorce required selling farmland.

“I’ll give her what she wants and she’ll come back,” he groaned.

She didn’t.

Daddy sourly predicted she couldn’t handle money, grousing, “She’ll blow right through it.”

She did.

We helplessly watched the wreckage.

Linda’s new boyfriend, Eddie, liked horses. Mama soon reported, “I’ve bought a horse! And the cutest riding outfit,” producing a picture of a quarter horse with a Western saddle.

Previously indifferent when we kept horses, Mama never learned to ride.

Our newly buxom Mama posed for Glamor Shots with an eye to the future, and her spending diversified beyond implants and horses.

She invested with hairdressers Perry and Terry in a startup florist business after a trip to Disney. Perhaps they twisted Mama’s arm; she’d returned with it in a cast.

The “Flower Pot” closed within 70 days. Seemed none of them knew or cared about actual floral work.

Next, she purchased an audacious ring in Miami, which we dubbed the Super Bowl ring.

Mama invested, then leapt out, taking a drubbing. “I’m not cut out for the stock market,” she frowned.

I inquired about her horse with no name. “Oh, I don’t know where it is,” she waved, sunlight setting her ring ablaze.

“You don’t know where it is?”

“Eddie’s taking care of it,” she said. “Somewhere. I’m not really a horse person.”

As it turned out, Eddie and Linda were over; Linda had reconciled with her husband.

Mama’s bank account dwindled . . . a missing horse . . . bad stocks . . . an empty Flower Pot. She began working at a consignment shop, easily affording new outfits every day.

Mama never looked better.

When Daddy died of a heart attack at 61, Mama sat with me all night as I sobbed.

“Your Daddy brought me a mess of collard greens a week ago,” she confided. “I sort of think he wanted us to get back together.”

I know he did, I gurgled through Tammy Faye-ugly tears.

Mama bought an extravagant spray of roses for his coffin.

Daddy had left her $10,000 to buy a diamond.

In death as in life, everything — and nothing — was
resolved.  OH

Cynthia Adams is a contributing editor to O.Henry.

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