Blazing sun, no shade, and rows of cotton – Sam held his canvas bag and stared at the row assigned him. The heat created a shimmer on the horizon causing the rows to appear endless. He shivered despite the sweat trickling down his back. The image of endless rows triggered a memory of a picture his mama had of a beautiful table laden with delicious food and set with the finest dishes and silverware.
As a child, it fascinated him how the table seemed to go on forever. He never understood its meaning although Mama tried to explain. Her talk of rapture, tribulation, and Armageddon frightened him. “It’s the banquet Jesus is preparing for his children, Sammy. That’s why the table doesn’t end. It’s called the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.”
He had nodded, not comprehending it. He did understand that his mother loved that picture. Throughout their continual moving – and as migrant workers, that was frequently – Mama always had that pictured displayed.
Sam dismissed the memory as his hands began plucking cotton. The cotton bolls had sharp points that pricked but he didn’t feel it. His hands were tough and callused. He didn’t notice the sweat dripping off his brow. It was a life he was used to.
Once his bag was full, he dragged it to the big wooden trailer. One of the bosses hooked it on a scale to weigh. Sam spoke to some of the pickers, and took the metal ladle from Ray when offered. He filled it from the barrel of water and let the cool liquid wash his parched throat.
He took his money from the boss and watched another boss empty his bag into the trailer. With a brief glance, the man tossed the empty bag to Sam. Sighing, Sam walked back to the cotton, struck again at how the shimmering heat made the rows seem endless. Without warning a rush of nostalgia hit him like a hammer to his gut. Mama’s banquet picture appeared in his mind.
He was surprised when tears welled in his eyes. Was it that picture? Or was it missing Mama and Pops? Like a flash, he realized that picture represented his mama. It was the way she loved it – the way it meant something to her.
“Why you like that table picture so much, Mama?” He must’ve been about eight when he’d ask. They were setting up housing again, this time in a camp in Washington where they would work picking raspberries. It was a nicer cabin than some places they stayed. Sometimes they stayed in shacks, sometimes tents, but many times, they just lived out of their shell camper on the back of their pickup.
Mama rubbed her fingers lightly over the picture. The glass had broken long ago, but the wood frame was intact. “Well, Sammy, it was a wedding gift from my mom and dad. I wasn’t born into a migrant family. I met your daddy when his mama brought him to the church my parents were pastors of in California. His family was working in the grape harvest there. I fell in love the minute I laid eyes on your daddy. We ran off and got married.”
Sam pretended not to notice the tear that slipped down her cheek. “You love it ‘cause Grandma and Grandpa gave it to you?”
“Well, yes. And I miss them, and wish we could see them more. But, this picture’s so beautiful. Just look at that table, Sammy, and all that food, and there’s room for everybody. Mostly I love it because it gives me something to look forward to, a time of joy and rest and comfort.”
As young as he was, Sam knew she spoke of the exhaustion of her harsh life, the constant moving, and never having enough money. He had thrown his arms around her then. “I love the picture too, Mama. I’ll sit right next to you at that table if you want.”
Mama had cried. “Promise me you will, Sammy, ‘cause I’ll be grieved if you aren’t there. You’ll have to have Jesus in your heart, though, so remember that.”
Sam sighed as memories flooded his mind, his hands continually picking cotton. Mama had been in heaven ten years now, eaten away with cancer when she was thirty-five.
Wiping sweat from his brow, Sam realized his life was just endless rows of crops in one state or another. He found himself longing to see Mama and be at that table someday.
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