My mother gave me the words to write

My mother and father, and I was just tagging along.

She had the gift. I simply inherited her words.

MY MOTHER SHOULD have died the day she took her first breath. She was born early. No one thought she would live through the night.

The house was old. It was drafty.

It had cracks that had cracks.

She had no bed. They wrapped her in a towel and placed her in a shoebox. The shoebox was too large for her.

She cried a little. But mostly she slept.

She weighed one pound and one ounce.

When the doctor came back the next day to prepare the baby for burial, she was still breathing. She looked up and smiled. It was the beginning of a new life, a hard life – back when the black clouds of hard times hovered like a slate gravestone above a nation.

No jobs. No money. Do with what you had or do without.

Mary Eunice Price would always be frail, just a wisp of a girl. She grew up among the bayous of Louisiana. She hated gators. She hated snakes.

But still she fished whatever body of water she could find. Life was simple to understand. Catch a fish or go hungry.

When she was sixteen and entering high school, she sat down with her father and asked for money to buy school supplies. He has a hard man, an austere man. He was broke.

She said he threw a fit that night. She said he cursed a little and made her cry. She told him softly, “I’ll never ask you for money again.”

She never did.

Mary Eunice packed her clothes and headed for East Texas. Oil was on the ground. Money was in the banks. There were jobs waiting. She found work as a waitress in a little café. It was open day and night. Men wandered in day and night. The oilfield never shut down. The day cook and the night cook took turns sleeping and frying eggs or frying bacon or frying chicken. On good days, they fried steak. Eat it fried or order soup.

“Why did you go to work in a café?” I once asked her.

She closed her eyes and, in her mind, took herself back to a little room in a little town, thick with the smell of strong coffee and fried grease.

“So I could have light bread any time I wanted it,” she said.

In time, Mary Eunice had the three things most important to her.

A husband.

A son.

Her words.

She was the writer in the family. Mary Eunice Pirtle wrote in her journal every day. She wrote thousands of words. Thoughts. Memories. Recollections.

They were a rambling memoir of sorts.

It rained this morning.

The hydrangeas sure are pretty this morning.

God is better today than he was yesterday.

God was pretty good yesterday.

She published articles in newspapers and in magazines. They didn’t pay much if at all, but she saw her words in print, and maybe they touched someone, and maybe their day wasn’t as dark as it had been.

She had the gift. I simply inherited her words. And she loved the ones I wrote more than her own.

I know. She told me.

I lost my mother twice.

Once to Alzheimer’s.

The final time for good.

She’s gone now. But in a sense, she’s still around. Every time I write, and I write every day, the words aren’t mine. The words belong to her.

I know it. And so does she.

Happy Mother’s Day.

An excerpt from The Man Who Talked to Strangers, my Memoir of Sorts, scheduled for publication this summer.

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