Monday, March 16th, 1998: I woke up, showered, brushed my teeth, combed my hair, kissed my wife, and then went to work. By the time Teresa arrived (late as usual and adding nothing new to her ongoing array of excuses), I was sipping out of my second cup of hot Java and thinking of doing a shop walk-through. But I was in no hurry. I ran production control at my own pace. Coming and going, the order of operations, the methods of implementation, and the importance of any given function remained ever at my personal discretion.
Through the office windows I could see Wild Bill Kiser rushing toward the welding department, head down, full steam ahead, a wad of blueprints clinched in his right fist. To me, time seemed submissive, almost passive. To big Wild Bill, time was a foe. Everything he touched was treated as an emergency and ushered forward with shouting. I often wondered how near he must be to heart failure.
I finished my Java, trashed the cup, gathered up my scheduling papers and then reached for the door handle. The intercom sounded, “Mike Harrington, line two. Mike Harrington, line two”.
“Want me to get it,” Teresa said. She was always quick with a helping hand.
“Naw, I got it.” I rolled my chair away from the desk and sit down.
It was Dad on the line, and at the sound of his voice my stomach tightened. I hated when he called me at work. He always talked so much non-sense, what with stories about people long gone and completely unknown to me. Boring things. War stories from his time in the Navy, or as a prison guard, or just something about the old home folks. I never could get him to understand how busy I was, how much work I had to do, how many people were waiting on me for answers.
“Michael, you better come over here. I think your Momma is dead”.
I heard the words. I just didn’t listen to him. I was too busy talking to myself just like I always did when he called, Hurry up Dad. Say what you got to say. I don’t have all day to chat.
Michael, you better come over here. I think your Momma is dead. He didn’t actually say it again. But it was starting to clear my brain. Some deep part of my heart heard and understood.
Meantime, Dad kept talking, trying to give me some of the details.
But again I was thinking, I work, Dad. I can’t just jabber any time you want to call. I don’t know Jeff Pastlife or Sue Mountainwoman or Billy Sailor. Give me a break. It was a habit, an automatic response to my Dad’s monotone ways. Always when he called, and no matter how many times I told him I need to hang up, he always kept jawing about this or that or someother endless and dumb story that interested me not at all. For years he had verbally abused us, beaten us, and ignored us. Now, in the later years of life, “when the grinders cease and are few”, he thought a weekly phone call could make him a father and friend.
I didn’t hate him, wasn’t even angry. I just didn’t need him.
“She said she was tired,” he continued, “said she wanted to lay down a moment. I…I didn’t think much about it. I fried some eggs, made a little gravy, some toast. When I went to get her up, she just kept on laying there…”
Michael, you better come over here. I think your Momma is dead.
It finally came full home to me, a dark, unexpected truth that was piggy-backing on all my other thoughts. Momma was dead. “No”, my mind shouted. “Momma wasn’t even sick!”
I had planned to visit yesterday. I had planned to stop in and say hello, to eat a bowl of that ice cream she always kept in the freezer for me. But I had decided to play basketball instead, maybe visit Friday after work, or sometime soon. It didn’t matter. I’d get there shortly enough. For over fifteen years, my son our friends and I had gathered at Central Cabarrus High School for three to four hours of Sunday afternoon full court basketball. Sunday was my special day, reserved for me. I worked hard all week, gave my wife Friday nights and Saturday, and as to church and God, who cared. I believed that a man had a right to keep one day for himself.
It only took fifteen minutes to get to 730 Dewolfe Street. That’s were I was raised. It was home, different in perspective than the home where I then lived with my wife and kids but still home. The door had never been locked to me.
Dad was sitting at the kitchen table. My sister only lived a block up the road; she was already there and on the phone calling our other brothers. Mom was in the bedroom, asleep. She had suffered no long sickness, neither a slow painful passing. She had simply laid down and …went to Jesus.
I sat down on the foot of the bed. She seemed so calm, so at rest. I touched her hand. Dad had laid them one atop the other over her heart. She was already cold.
Words came from my lips. “It’s not fair, Mom. You didn’t give me any time!”
I wanted it to be her fault. I wanted someone else to be guilty. The Bible says that the Word “was the light of men. And the light shineth in the darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.” I did not believe in God. I did not know Jesus the Christ. But that voice that whispered into my heart was real, and the words He spoke of wasted time and foolish decisions was truth. Momma was gone. In a moment of turning, in the blink of an eye, in the private corner of a selfish soul death had gained an unexpected victory.