As the years of Mama’s life grew long into the shadows of age, she managed to squeeze every bit of good out of growing old.
She used it to get what she wanted and to shun that which she did not want.
“Where do you want to go to church today?” I’d call and ask on the Sundays she was going to church with me.
Sometimes we’d go to my church, sometimes to hers, sometimes to another. Wherever she wanted to go was fine with me.
In the last few years of her life, though, she was more often than not liable to say, “You know, I just don’t think I’ll go to church today.”
On the end of that, she would add some kind of feeble explanation such as “I’m so tired. I didn’t sleep good last night” or “It’s rainin’” or “I’ve been out twice this week already. I just think I’ll stay put.”
Then without fail, she’d always ask, “Would that be alright?”
Even into her 80s, she sought approval, especially when it came to shunning the Lord’s house for her own house.
I never tried to talk her into it or shame her.
I always said, “You know what? You’re 83 years old and you’ve earned the right to stay home if you want to. You’ve spent all your life being in church every time the door opened. Stay home if you like.”
Through the phone, I could feel her beaming from ear-to-ear.
“Well, that’s kindly what I thought, too.”
As she eased toward the end of her years, you could always count two things: She’d say whatever she doggone pleased and she wouldn’t do whatever did not set well with her. I admired both.
Now I dream of the time when I will not feel compelled to be diplomatic. That I won’t say “Yummy” about a bite of food that is really “yucky.” That I won’t buy something just to please a store clerk when, really, I don’t need it nor like it. And I won’t pretend to be interested in a topic of conversation that bores me.
Mama would say, “Let’s talk about something else. This ain’t worth the air it takes to blow out our words.”
Once, I took her a plate of food for dinner. She took a bite of something and almost spit it out. She made a childish face.
“That’s awful! What in tarnation did you put in there?”
I frowned and said “If I were eatin’ free food that had been hand delivered to me, I wouldn’t complain if I were you.”
“You would if you were eatin’ this,” she said.
Many times I was aghast at comments she would make to other people. She was so plain spoken, but not intentionally mean or rude. She just spoke what was on her mind and she only did it with people who knew her well.
Sometimes, I stepped in and apologized for her. Sometimes, she’d allow the apology to stand, but other times, she’d say, “I meant it. She does looks better when she has a perm than she does with stringy hair.”
What I’ve come to admire lately is how she didn’t go if she didn’t want to go.
“Mama, why aren’t you going with us? It’ll be fun,” I said.
“I don’t care about fun. I just don’t want to. That’s why,” she said.
The other day I wanted to stay home.
Tink sweetly said, “I’ll go and you stay here. Rest. I know you’re tired.”
I replied, “No. I need to go.”
Oh, but I look forward to the years when I can say, “I don’t want to” and everyone else will cut me a wide swath. No one will insist or make me feel bad. They’ll believe I have earned whatever respite I claim.
There’s liberation with the advancement of age. I don’t want to miss out on those rewards.
Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of several books, including “What Southern Women Know.” Sign up for her newsletter at www.rondarich.com. Her column appears Tuesdays and on gainesvilletimes.com/ronda.