Twelve years ago on Valentine’s Day. Can it be? I was in a florist shop with happy, rather loud people. The place was bustling with men. They were shouting, “Hey, I’ll take the teddy bear with the red roses!” or “Pink roses for me.” More often than not, a deep voice would cry out, “You say they’re how much?” And then the customer would follow up with “I’ll take ’em anyway.” More shouts of “a dozen” or “two dozen” or “only six–but mix a lot of greenery in them so they look like more.” Such gaiety!
The man behind the counter finally got to me and said, “What’ll you have, little lady?” I swallowed hard and tried to whisper, “I need a floral spread for a coffin, please.”
The salesman stammered. Immediately, the shop got deathly quiet. I apologized to everyone for putting a damper on their fun.
I made my order and retreated to my car as more customers merrily pushed their way into the shop.
The day before, I had picked Mom up at the nursing home and tucked her in my car. It was a glorious sunny day in Virginia. Jonquils were pushing through, bringing the promise of spring. Momma chatted as we drove across the lengthy James River Bridge there in Newport News, VA. She pointed to the clear sky over the water and said, “Janie, do you see that?” I saw nothing but she insisted there was “something up there.” She begin to sing with the Gospel music that vibrated out of the car speakers. After our little excursion, she asked the same question that she asked every time we crossed this long bridge: “How long you reckon this bridge is?” I smiled and answered, “Momma, next time we cross it, I’ll check the mileage for you.” Her answer seemed strange, “If there is a next time…”
When we returned to the nursing home, Momma said, “I need to go put out my red blouse because Bob’s One Man Band is coming tomorrow to entertain us for Valentine’s Day. You coming?” I assured her I’d be there with bells on. I hugged her goodbye and we exchanged “I love you’s”. As always, she told me to drive carefully back home to Norfolk.
The next morning, one of my closest friends came to my door. That seemed unusual since she’d given me a Valentine gift earlier. I sat down to chat with her but she knelt beside me and simply said, “Your lil Momma is singing with the angels.”
How could that be? She had seemed fine on our drive less than 24 hours before. In fact, she had seemed almost giddy with glee.
I miss her terribly. I see her face when I look in the mirror ; I hear her when I laugh; I see her hands coming out of my coat sleeves–but I still miss her. I want her to see how my children and grandchildren are doing. I want her to see me cook with her recipes. I want her to know her quarters are still safely wrapped in tissue, tucked safely in her purse where she hid them from others whom she’d beat in Bingo at the nursing home. I want her to know I wrote the book that she kept telling me to write.
But on Valentine’s Day, 2002, God Himself called His sweetheart home. She never got to hear Bob’s One Man Band. And she never went over the James River Bridge again. I have no idea what—or Whom–she saw in the blue skies, but I have an idea. No wonder she was giddy.
I love you, Momma.