United States: Thursdays with Mama (Shorts On Long Term Care March 2017)

Last Updated: March 6 2017
Article by Kenneth L. Burgess

Life has a rhythm, a symmetry, a meter, a metric. It's rarely smooth or perfect. It's knots and knuckles, bumps and bruises. It's rough and tumble. It sings its own song in its own time.

As a kid growing up in a small southern town in North Carolina, I lived for Saturdays. Saturdays, after we kids helped clean the house, and the grass was cut, and whatever other chore our over-worked Mama and Daddy could think up was done, it was play time. No homework, no obligations. Just play.

But as much as I lived for Saturdays, my favorite day was Thursday. On Thursdays, I'd get home from school and do my homework right away. On any given Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday, I'd find any excuse to do homework later. I was a straight "A" student but, like with any kid, homework was an interruption in my after-school, weekday joys. But on Thursday, I raced home, did my homework, and waited.

About 5:30, Mama would come in from her long day's work in Rocky Mount, eight miles away, as a bookkeeper for an office supply company. She'd drive that long eight miles, bone tired, quickly change clothes, and then just she and me would drive back to town to buy our family's groceries for the week. Just me, Mama and the Big Star grocery store. I pushed the buggy and Mama shopped. It took me years to question why Mama drove eight miles home, to fetch me, just to drive back to town, a half-mile from where she worked all day, to get groceries. That must have added another two hours to her already long day.

Back then, that never crossed my mind. All I remember is waiting for Mama to get home on Thursday to pick me up and heading straight to the Big Star. We'd search for whatever was on sale. One day, we saw an old man wearing a tan raincoat – it wasn't raining. Then, we heard a commotion. Turns out that old fella tried to steal a batch of collards, hiding them under his raincoat. He got caught. Even at nine, I realized those collards couldn't have cost more than a buck, less than I made cutting the neighbor's grass.

But we had shopping to do. Our family of five depended on me and Mama to come home with food for a whole week. Every shopping day, there were certain things we had to have, unless the prices got too high. Chicken, a pot roast, carrots, potatoes, green beans, and Campbell's Chicken Noodle Soup.

When I turned 16, I got a work permit which allowed me to leave my job at the fast-food restaurant and get a job where they sold beer and wine. I got a job at the Big Star. On Thursdays I'd look up from the end of the long silver sloping checkout counter where I bagged groceries from 5 until 10 p.m. and I'd see Mama coming in. She looked awful lonely without me there to help her shop. I used to wonder if she'd forget the Campbell's Chicken Noodle Soup without me there to remind her. When she'd check out, she'd always get in my line. I could check her haul and make sure everything was there for Sunday lunch.

On Sundays for as long as I can remember, Mama got up early, really early, even before breakfast and started Sunday lunch before church. I'd see all the things we bought at the Big Star spread out on the kitchen counter, all waiting to become something else. Our Sunday meal was just plain scrumptious. Usually we'd have two meats — fried chicken, pork roast with potatoes and carrots, hamburger with onions, beef stew and vegetables — mashed potatoes, butter beans, field peas or, on bad Sundays, stewed tomatoes or collards. I hated those and still do. We always had Mama's biscuits and there'd be gravy to go on something.

And then dessert. If we only had two desserts, it was a slow Sunday. Chocolate pie, butterscotch pie, coconut cake, or pineapple upside down cake. At Sunday lunch, the table was quiet. The only sound you'd ever hear was the smacking of hungry mouths and our Daddy, pointing at a plate of fried chicken or mashed potatoes, saying "hmph" which we all knew meant, "pass me some more of that."

After lunch, we kids did the dishes. Daddy turned on the TV and Mama disappeared somewhere to iron or fold clothes. She was never a fan of TV.

About four o'clock on Sundays, Mama would finally join us in the big living room. She'd say, "I'm feeling hungry." That was our cue to start hitting the Sunday lunch leftovers, all neatly arranged and covered on the kitchen counter.

We'd eat and eat, snack and nibble until there was that one chicken leg or piece of roast and potato left. 'Round about 9 p.m., the snacking was over, it was getting time for bed and Monday morning school and work for Mama and Daddy. The final round of dish-washing was done and Sunday was over. I'd start thinking on Sunday nights about next Thursday when me and Mama would go to the Big Star.

To this day, as a 59-year old man, I hate Sundays after 9 p.m. I want it to be 4:00, when Mama comes into the living room and says, "I'm feelin' hungry" and we line up for seconds of chocolate pie, or coconut cake, or cold fried chicken, and watch reruns of Gunsmoke or Amos and Andy on our old black-and-white TV.

I left the old home place in 1975, headed to college, law school, then on to my career in Raleigh, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, and then back to Raleigh. Over the years, I've traveled all over the world, met all kinds of people and done all kinds of things I dreamed I'd do. I reckon I did what most kids do – ran as far from home as I could get, thinking it must be better somewhere out there.

Then, I came home. Daddy's gone now. He passed in 2002. The old house has long since been sold. The old Big Star grocery store is also long gone, replaced by something else. Three years ago, I moved back to Rocky Mount and built a new house out in the county. In it lives me, two dogs, a cat, an uncle and guess who — my Mama. She has just turned 80, is going strong and still cooks the best fried chicken and gravy on earth.

I wrote this story five years ago, stuck it in a folder and forgot about it. I recently found it, dusted it off, read it and shed a few nostalgic tears. Then, I laughed. Somehow, after all my years and jobs and travels, that little kid who waited for Mama every Thursday at 5:30 to head to the Big Star, that kid who ran as far away as he could, has ended up less than 10 miles from where he started and living with Mama.

Life has a rhythm, a symmetry, a meter, a metric. It's rarely smooth or perfect. It's knots and knuckles, bumps and bruises. It's rough and tumble. It sings its own song in its own time.

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