Brown sugar, sweet potatoes, and cinnamon, this was who she was. Potato pone straight from the fridge tastes something like old memories, sweet natural sugar and childhood. I flipped through the pages of the book while I lay on her bed that Sunday afternoon. The story was about a school girl who stood out from the rest who walked in two straight lines. Her name was Madeline and she lived in one of the books my mother had stacked in a bookcase in her classroom. Madeline is like potato pone.
However, this wasn’t mother’s house. This was grandma’s house, and the love ran deep like the roots of the tree outside that I could climb faster than my sister.
We had to work in grandma’s house. There was cleaning to do. There were wooden tables that needed dusting and shining and floors that needed vacuuming. It was ritual. It was tradition. The house had to be clean so you cleaned it. There wasn’t much discussion. She yelled my name from the kitchen with strength, courage and a touch of something else much softer because it was time to make things clean. I hated work on a Sunday afternoon. I would pay anything to work like that again. I was 8 years old and Lemon Pledge is like potato pone.
I stood staring out of the window holding my digital video camera. Maybe it was inspired by the Blair Witch Project or simply the desire to capture life before it left me behind, but for months I had begun to carry it with me everywhere. I left school as soon as possible and went straight to the hospital. Sometimes I could get there while she was still sleeping. That way she could wake up and see me there with her. This time she was still asleep. I opened the blinds in the hospital room just to let in some light. It seemed like I was always in hospitals. She woke up. She smiled. I lived for this. Her smile was like…
It was 3 in the morning. My heart started racing as soon as the phone rang because it was the wrong time of day for small talk. “Hey, I am at the hospital…”, my mother had that way of staying calm in the midst of a plane falling out of the sky.
“They don’t think she will make it through the night.” I had to keep my voice steady so that my mom could keep pretending that her’s was as well. I needed to be there just like when my grandmother picked me up from school in the sixth grade. I needed to be there like when my best friend died and she was the first person I called. I needed to be there but you can’t just leave in the military. You have to follow protocol.
“Tell her I love her.”
“She knows that, baby.”
“She needs to hear it.”
“I’ll tell her…I love you”
The sun was hours away and the silence was like suffocation under plastic bags. I called the number to the hospital again and an orderly picked up. I gave him my name and asked if he knew her. “Oh, you are Ann’s grandson…the rest of the family is here”. I felt cold. “Could you tell her…just tell her that her grandson loves her”. He responded, “I will.” And I hung up the phone. I hope he did. Pain is darkness and loss of someone truly loved is to lose a piece of yourself. I think I screamed, or cried, or both. I wasn’t there to remember.
The Dean called my name next. I heard the room cheer and applaud. My frat brothers, my non-blood brother, my girl and family were there, but more importantly, so was she. They gave me my degree and a rose and I shook the dean’s hand. She smiled at me and everything we had gone through ran through my mind like a brief after school special, complete with perfectly timed piano music and the happy ending…only there were a lot more unhappies than I care to remember. I don’t know if there is a more important moment in my life.
I walked down the stairs hoping I wouldn’t trip on the gown and walked down the aisle. I got closer to her and she screamed, “I knew you could do it, baby!” Even though I knew she was in pain she screamed. I gave her the rose and followed the line out the door. I wish I could have given more than a rose.
Mama knew love like the back roads
Used to fall asleep daily in her work clothes
Mom I swear you never have to worry again
Mama knew love like the back streets
Used to wipe pee just to make the ends meet
Mom I swear you never have to worry again
Anthony Hamilton sang it better than I can write it.