Up today in the Best Guest Post Series Ever, we have Gayle from So Much For The Mother Of the Year Award. Originally, she was going to write something else entirely, but when she sat down, this story is what came out instead. It's a story of the love of a mother told over generations, through the simplicity of a single item. I fell in love with it immediately, and so will you.
I walked in from work and went immediately to slinging frozen french fries on a cookie sheet. Will walked in to the kitchen and said, "Mama, I would like to say thank you for everything you do for us. Around here. Going to work. All that stuff. We are, well, we are pretty much for anyone I guess and I just wanted to say thanks."
I froze, turned, and stared at him.
He laughed and said, "We were talking about gratitude in Social Studies today for a conversation about Veteran's Day. And I was thinking that if anybody deserved some gratitude, it is you."
Whew. I thought he was going to say he was going in to the military... which is exactly what he said next.
"As soon as I get done with my shoulder surgery, I want to go and talk with a Marine recruiter."
Thud, thud, thud, thud. I can feel my heart beating.
I remembered the first time I felt him flutter in my belly. The first time I saw his face. How I cried tears of frustration on him when he couldn't latch to breastfeed. Pictures of us flashed at each birthday party, me always hovering and smiling at him, loving at him. How he always tried not to cry when he threw up when he was little. When he wouldn't stop watching a train go by during his first baseball game when he was six. His explanation about why he broke up with his first girlfriend, too much talking on the bus in the morning. The wobble in his voice when he called me at work from 7th grade, “Mama? I think I’m in bad trouble.” How he danced the Wiggle Wiggle Wiggle when he tried on his tux for the first time for prom. When his friend took a whole bunch of pills and he told her to tell her mom or he would call 911, and then he watched Chopped with me on my bed and silent tears streamed down his face. The strength in his arms when he hugs me and how my head lands on his shoulder now. How much he makes me laugh every single day, how he always hugs me, even in front of his friends.
And I said, "Sweetheart, if that is what you want, I will help you."
The shoulder isn't better. He won’t ever pass the physical for the military. But he and his Dad have plans. His Dad bought property in Alaska, not near a city. Not near anything, actually, somewhere between Fairbanks, Alaska and the border of Yukon, Canada. They are stockpiling food and supplies now and they will leave to drive there April of 2016. They will camp the first summer and build a small cabin. The first winter will be the worst part probably, a winter of canned foods and isolation. They are taking a Maine Coon who will have no crunchy cat food for the first time in her life. They are planning to stay, homestead, farm, hunt, and have bed & breakfast guests eventually. His Dad is a trained chef and Will is finishing his second year of welding as he completes high school.
I think about little things like chapped lips and what will the cat use for kitty litter. I think about bizarre things like scurvy. Phone service, maybe? Can I hear my son’s voice or will I wait breathlessly for sporadic letters? People gasp at the plans and ask, “How can you stand it?”
My heart already aches.
I am pre-missing him, because I’m a planner like that but he doesn't know. I don’t ever want the thought to cross his mind, “I can’t go there, it would break my Mom’s heart.” or the words to leave his lips, “I wouldn't ever take that chance, Mom would freak out.” I want him to feel me with him where ever he lands in the world. I did not just have a baby 17 years ago. I was just getting a person ready for his own journeys.
I’ll sneak an old, oversize, blue sweatshirt in to his bags. In 1996, my own Mama hid it in my bags when Will’s Dad and I were moving to Alaska. I was thirteen weeks pregnant with her first grandchild when we visited with her and then drove across the United States and through Canada to reach the Air Force Base. I was sorting and unpacking a month or so later when I came across the old blue sweatshirt. Mama had folded a note inside that said, “This is my oldest, softest sweatshirt. When you need a hug from me, put this on, and give yourself and the baby a hug and know that it is filled with Mama love.” I sat in the floor and sobbed. I have that same sweatshirt tucked carefully away. It is a little more threadbare now, but it is going to Alaska again in 2016, to be a hug for a child, from a Mama.
Gayle McDaniel Johnson