“My One and Only Mama,” May 7, 2019

Recently I heard a joke that seems fitting for Mother’s Day. I would gladly cite the source, but I don’t recall where I heard it, just as I often don’t recall where I left the glasses that are sitting on my head. Here’s the joke:

During an exam to become a police officer, a young recruit was asked how he would respond if, in the line of duty, it became necessary for him to arrest his own mother.

The young man fell silent trying to imagine something so utterly unimaginable. Finally, he nodded and replied.

“If I had to arrest my mother,” he said, “the first thing I’d do is call for back-up.”

If you’re laughing, chances are you were blessed, as I was, to be raised by a formidable woman. The New Oxford American Dictionary on my laptop defines “formidable” as: “Inspiring fear or respect through being impressively large, powerful, intense, or capable.”

The qualities in that definition fit my mother like an iron glove. She was not large physically, but to me, she was larger than life. She was also powerful, intense and extremely capable, not to mention insufferably stubborn.

She surely inspired fear and respect. I personally never dared to disrespect her, but my sister did. Once. She promptly learned never to do it again.

Having told you that, I will tell you this. Years ago for Mother’s Day, I wrote a column about all the women in my life who had been like a mother to me. I included my grandmothers, my aunts, a few teachers and Sunday school teachers, my mother-in-law and several mothers of my friends.

I called it “Mamas I Have Known and Loved.” My intentions were good. I meant no disrespect to my mother, and didn’t expect it to be a problem. The column was syndicated, but not in my hometown. I told myself there was no way she’d ever read a word of it.

That was not the first time I underestimated her, or made the mistake of doing something thinking I’d not get caught.

As fate would have it, someone was kind enough to mail that column to one of the mamas I had mentioned in it; who was kind enough to share it with my mother; who was kind enough, barely, not to kill me.

Imagine my surprise when I phoned, totally unsuspecting, to wish her happy Mother’s Day. Instead of “Hello,” she said, “I read what you wrote and all I can say is you need a few more mamas who aren’t me!”

Then she slammed the phone.

As with other disappointments in life, she took time to get over it. But she did. She always did. Forgiveness ranks high among all the skills needed for being a mother. It might be number 1. We never spoke of it again.

Years later, at the end of her battle with lung cancer, I spent three days at her bedside in the hospital. I sang to her hymns we had sung in church and songs she had sung with her sisters on the porch. I read passages to her from the Bible and told her stories that would have made her laugh, if not for the pain meds that made her sleep.

On the third day — the last day of her life — when my sister insisted I had to leave the hospital long enough to take a shower, I kissed my mother goodbye and turned to go. But something made me look back.

She was sleeping peacefully. I went over to her bedside, leaned down and whispered in her ear. “Mama?” I said. “You’re my one and only mama. The only one I’ll ever have or want.”

Her eyes fluttered open and she gave me a look as if I had said something that made no sense, like peaches don’t have fuzz. It was a look I’d often seen from her over the years, but would never see again this side of Forever.

“That’s right,” she said, pointing her finger at my nose, “I’m your one and only mama. And don’t you forget it.”

I have never forgotten it. And I never will.

Especially — but not only — on Mother’s Day.


  1. Belle M Harmon says

    I only wish this could be shared on Face Book. My daughter did the same thing and though she has been forgiven it still stings. I was the major wage earner since her father was a bum, I stuck with for over 16 years and to this day she still rants that I was never there for her.

  2. Sylvia Lewis says

    Happy Mothers Day
    . I am praying for Joe every day. Hope he is doing well.

  3. Kate Sciacca says

    Oh my, what a beautiful story. My mama wasn’t strong or formidable…. she became a “friend of Bill W’s” in her later years — but still struggled with depression and self pity. A few days before she died (from emphysema, sixty years at two packs a day will do that to you) she told me it was time for me to “go home and take care of your family.” For her that was a deep act of selflessness… so grateful for that.
    May you be abundantly blessed with your children, grands and in-laws this Mother’s Day 🙂. My soon to be DIL is giving me a personal tour at the winery in Napa where she works… I won’t complain 😀🍷🍷

  4. Cathy Rhyne says

    Happy Mother’s Day Sharon💞 And congratulations on your new grandson!

  5. Such a hard story to share. Even grown-up daughters don’t like to disappoint their mamas (this coming from one who surely has). I love your writing Sharon, and this one made me cry. I’m glad you got to tell her.

  6. Marilyn Green says

    Love it, as always. Happy Mother’s Day to you.

  7. This story touched my heart. I had tears in my eyes. Oh how I miss my Mom.
    Thank you Sharon!
    Happy Mother’s Day!

    Juliann McPadden

  8. Karilea Jungel says

    Well, you made me cry. Thank you!

  9. May be my favorite column to date.

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