The mourners filed past the most beloved face Marcus had ever known. He had spent his own precious moments looking down at a face that was familiar and yet unknown. This was not really his mother; she had flown to another place leaving him and his sister behind.
“Are you O.K., Honey?” Aunt Josephine asked.
“I’ll be alright - just remembering,” he confided.
“O, chile they’s `nuff rememberin’ to las’ a lifetime,” Aunt Josie chuckled, “this is a celebration.”
She was right of course; Josie was so much like mama.
The waiting limousine was comfortable and as it began its way to the Tabor cemetery several miles to the north, Marcus broke the silence with his sister Lateesha, “How are you holding up, sis?”
“O.K.” Teesha dabbed her eyes.
The silence drug for a moment as Marcus remembered.
“What are you thinking, little brother?” Teesha asked.
“I was just remembering the trips to Chuey’s?” Marcus asked.
Teesha voice was something between a chuckle and a sob, “Always dragging that little red wagon along.”
“We were supposed to pick up some groceries,” Marcus remembered fondly.
“Mr. Chuey would point us to the back of the store where he’d load us up with corn, lettuce, tomatoes…” Teesha paused.
“Oh, don’t forget the carrots,” Marcus added.
“And a loaf of bread with a ring of bologna,” Teesha smiled.
“Mama would can vegetables for days,” Marcus remembered.
“Things were tough after Daddy died,” Teesha recalled. Marcus was too young to remember his father. “We grew up around some good folks.”
Marcus paused, “I suppose we did.”
“Neighbors were always looking out for us because Mama never had enough to make ends meet.” Teesha said simply.
Marcus was barraged with conflicting thoughts and emotions. He remembered going to Mr. Chuey’s and picking up the food, but - charity? Mama gave the orders and he and Teesha went - simple as that.
There came a time when his mama had shed tears of joy as he grasped the hand of the college president and received his diploma a few years before. Things had changed for Marcus, a nice home in the burbs, an SUV, and a beautiful wife and two small children back in Atlanta.
Why had Teesha tapped into memories that seemed so beautiful, and pollute them with reality? Marcus had honestly never thought about his childhood the way Teesha described it. “It wasn’t that bad,” Marcus began. “We always had clothes and our apartment was nice.”
Teesha just chuckled.
“What?” Marcus wasn’t sure whether he should be offended or not.
“All our clothes were hand-me-downs, Marcus. So was our furniture and just about everything else. Mama was a proud lady and she didn’t want us to act like beggars,” Teesha spoke softly.
“We were that poor?” Marcus asked.
“Even poor people thought we were poor,” Teesha smiled sadly.
“Who knew about this?” Marcus asked self-consciously.
“It looks like everybody but you,” Teesha replied.
The limousine made its way through the winding lanes of Tabor and parked near a mound of fresh dirt and a green tent.
Springtime made its obtrusive presence known as Marcus and Lateesha sat in the front row as the preacher talked about ashes and dust; life and death, hope and futures. Aunt Josie stood up and sang “Amazing Grace”. It wasn’t long before the crowd joined in one by one with chipper birds and squirrels adding their own distinct sounds to the hymn.
Marcus was only beginning to realize what an incredible gift he had been given. He had never been told he was poor, so he never conceived it was true. His lack of belief didn’t make it untrue; it’s just that Marcus had just responded to life with the same persistence and optimism demonstrated by his mama. He wondered how different his life would be had mama said things like, “Honey-chile we's 'bout as dirt poor as they come,” or “You’s gonna hafta scrap for every little bit of somethin you’s ever gonna get, so you’s might as well get used to it chile.”
The singing stopped and the love Marcus felt toward his mom swelled and spilled over his eyelids. He was invited to the graveside after it was lowered into the ground. He tossed the first bit of Georgia clay onto her casket as tears dripped off his nose baptizing his mama’s grave and he spoke five words he wished he could have said years earlier, “Thank you Mama - for everything I didn’t know.”