by Rick Turton
I have no recollection about anything specific we spoke of that day. I know the weather was involved because we always spoke of the weather here in Georgia. He gave me words of advice, I’m sure, because that’s what he always did when he was going somewhere longer than overnight. His words soft, sweet, gentle.
More than once in the last few days, I’d seen him looking at the triangular walnut case on the mantle. There was a picture beside the flag, a man he’d never met, a picture of his father, my husband, in his Army dress uniform, strong, proud. A smaller picture, stuck in the corner of the frame, corners curling, fading. My husband seated on a row of sandbags at some nameless firebase in Vietnam.
Conversation quietly came to a comfortable close that morning; neither of us wanting to talk of the actual matter.
He pushed his breakfast plate aside. Looking at it one last time, eyes smiling but sad, knowing, “I always liked those plates, Ma, with the barn and the cows and the bright yellow and green edges.
Reaching across, I found his hand and squeezed it. His hands were callused, course, rough and scratchy from too many summers in the fields. I tried to smile, but my tears spilled over, tracing my feelings down my cheeks. I turned away quickly and pulled the hanky from my sleeve as I tried to wipe away the sadness.
The sun was fully up now. He stood, pushing back his chair. Looking at me, smiling, he said, “I reckon I’d better be goin’; that bus’ll be along any minute. And you know ole’ Bob; he don’t wait for no one.” He reached down and picked up his yellow and green mug and finished off his coffee. “I think I’m gonna’ miss this most Ma. You always make the best coffee.”
As I stood, I reached into the pocket of my apron and said, “It’s the chicory, Donny, takes the bite off. Here, I packed a little bag of it for you!” and gave him a bag stuffed with ground chicory.
As he took the rough little hand-sewn bag, his hands held mine for just a moment longer. Then he looked down at his highly polished shoes and said quietly, “Thanks, Ma, thanks for everything. I love you.”
I stepped in closer and hugged him tight, “I love you too, Donny. Always remember that.”
He reached around me engulfing me in those strong arms of his and hugged me back, this time just a little longer than usual. Abruptly, he stepped back and reached for his dress green jacket and put it on. He put on the soft dress cap the Army gave him, picked up his duffel bag and slung it over his shoulder.
As he reached the doorway, he rested his hand on the doorjamb. He looked at the old, weathered wood with all the pencil marks on it showing his progress in growing up to get to this day. He turned and looked around again, gathering it all in like he was photographing the scene in his mind. Smiling a little once again, he gave a half wave, said, “G’bye, Ma”, walked out the door, and let the screen door slam once more.
That’s when I knew.