From time to time, as my writing career grew, Mama would say, “I built you, little girl. Don’t ever forget that.”
She’d say it with a smile and twinkle in her eye and full sincerity in her voice. The truth is that she pretty much did. She didn’t write the words. She didn’t drive the thousands of miles for speaking engagements; she didn’t haul books in from the car and set up signing tables. She didn’t chase the opportunities, and she didn’t have to discipline herself to sit down to write when the words had called in sick. But she did inspire. She was my muse, providing an endless amount of stories and wisdom. She was packed full of common sense and know-how and never hesitated to tell anyone just how they should live or make a decision.
My first book, published by Penguin Putnam in 1999, was dedicated to Mama, whom I explained was both the producer of the author and most of the knowledge I was to impart. At speaking engagements, when I was introduced, Mama would smile brightly and wave the same rotating wave used by the Queen of England. I do not know how she came up with that.
Over the years, readers of my books and this column have said over and over, “Please, do a book about Mama. She’s my favorite.”
I started last summer to compile columns and new stories into a book on Mama but stopped when other projects and work took my attention. This past summer, I made it priority. I took the manuscript that I had compiled last summer and dove into it. It was great pleasure to remember — that what we all love about the times gone that once were so dear — but there were moments of sadness because some folks leave such a deep mark on our lives that we will never stop missing them or longing to be with them again.
“Mark my words, y’all have no ‘idee’ how much y’all are gonna miss Mama,” she said. That became the title of the book, “Mark My Words.” She was, as usual, completely right.
I think of Mama every day. Often, several times through the day. It can be profound such as when I have a trouble or trial and, in my mind, I’ll talk it out with Mama. Sometimes, I sit on the porch and actually talk to her about it. Then, always, after I have finished pouring out my tribulation, I see her smile strongly, confidently and wink — Mama loved to wink — and say what she always said in the hardest of times, “It’s gonna be all right. God has it all right in the palm of his hand.” Comfort floods my being because I know she’s right — hard times and challenges pass into forgetfulness, though some pass away quicker than others.
As I wrangled the columns into a book, I was surprised to find that Mama — the most beloved character about whom I ever wrote — died four years into the life of this column. It is now 13 years old but for the last nine years, I have continued to write about her. As I said at her funeral, “Now I can write the columns that I couldn’t write when she was alive.”
For the first time ever, I have published myself. Not because publishing houses didn’t want this book. Some did. But because I wanted to own Mama’s stories. She’s so dear to me that I couldn’t just sell her away. It would be like selling that faded little red pin cushion topped with green felt that looks like a fat, squat strawberry.
Speaking of the pin cushion, my nephew’s wife, Selena, a talented photographer, came to shoot photos for the book. We shot bits and pieces of Mama’s life. Next week, I’ll share stories about those items.
Mark my words. Even her things have stories to tell.
Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of several books, including “What Southern Women Know.” Her column publishes Tuesdays.The memoir of Mama is available at www.rondarich.com, booksellers or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.