After early church and Sunday school, Mama and I had hurried to the grocery store. An older friend was ailing badly with the flu, so I told Mama I’d make him some quick homemade chicken soup and she could make the cornbread muffins. Then, I’d run it over to him.
On the way back from his house, I called Mama. "You need to come over to my house and help me get ready for Dixie Dew’s party. This soup-making has put me behind."
Dew’s 7th birthday party was that afternoon. On my way to pick her up, Mama called. "Don’t come right now. Some friends just walked in to visit. I’ll call you when they leave."
Two hours later — a few minutes before the party was to start — Mama called back and asked cheerfully, "Have I missed the party?"
"No, but you missed the work," I replied dryly.
She laughed. "Well, that’s OK. Just as long as I don’t miss the party."
Mama hated to miss a party.
I called my sister who was en route and asked her to pick up Mama. A few minutes later, they arrived. Mama was in an exceedingly good mood. The day prior, I had emceed a charity fashion show and she had been the star model. When I said to 400 ladies, "Meet Mama," they went nuts. She was thrilled.
"I’ve had a ball," she said when we left..
A few minutes after she came in my house, we were laughing about something. She grinned, pointed her finger at me, winked and said, "And you don’t forget that."
Then, in a twinkling of an eye, just like the Bible says, she stepped from our presence into the presence of the Lord. An aneurysm burst in her head, she stumbled, fell down the step into my sunken living room, hit her head on an antique trunk that had belonged to her uncle and Mama, the best sport ever, was gone.
Mama was one of the greatest characters that ever rose up out of the rural South because she represented us so well. She was faith-filled, family-focused, feisty, plain-spoken and she always colored life with humor and goodwill. Among the many things I will miss is the rapid-fire, enchantingly funny banter we had. She gave retorts well and she took ’em well.
I always thought that when Mama died, that Mama, the character, would die as well in my stories and books. That once she journeyed home, I would write only sparingly of her. But now I know better.
Thanks to the outpouring of response from readers who can’t bare the thought of life without Mama stories, I know that these stories must go on. So I will continue to tell them. For great Southern characters never die — they live forever in the stories we tell and re-tell. Due to columns that have already been delivered to your newspaper, you may read stories in the next few weeks that were written before Mama died. Please cherish them. She loved every word I ever wrote about her and had already read all of these columns.
Be assured that Mama’s story has not ended.
Mama, thanks to her salvation, has stepped from this world into life everlasting. Now Mama, thanks to her star power as a great Southern character, will do what few people are ever able to obtain: She will live eternally both here on earth and in heaven.
She left Dew’s party abruptly for a grander, more glorious party. One I’ve already RSVP’ed for myself so I’ll be seeing her again. As one friend said, "Wow. What a way to go. She modeled in a fashion show the day before, then was on her way to a party when the good Lord called."
Yeah, but I just wish she could have stayed at our party longer.
Ronda Rich is the Gainesville-based author of "What Southern Women Know (That Every Woman Should)." Sign up for her newsletter at www.rondarich.com.