This is a column first published in The Telegraph on August 30, 2015. It seemed appropriate for our celebration of Mother’s Day 2022.
I was driving to work on a recent Monday morning. It was about a quarter to eight when I heard my phone beep, telling me I’ve got a message. When I’m driving, I don’t respond to text messages or phone calls. I parked behind the Center for Collaborative Journalism that houses The Telegraph’s newsroom and I looked down at my phone. The message said, “Call me when you get this.” It’s from my best of friends, Rodney Milton in Stockton, California, and if he’s calling me at 4:45 a.m., his time, whatever he had to tell me was not good — and it wasn’t.
His mother, Alice, had passed away. She was 83, although to look at her, you would never have known her age. I was a lucky child. I had not one, but three moms, and Alice — I called her Sister Milton — was one of them. Mary Barnes, who died 26 years before in 1989, was Mother No. 2.
Sister Milton and her husband, Arthur, had six children: five boys and a girl. I think I ate at their home more than at mine. It was and is one of the most loving families I’ve ever known. Lots of laughter and good-natured ribbing between the boys. It’s hard to put into words what people feed into our souls. People who give of themselves, even when they’re wrapped up in day-to-day living. They give, not because they have to, and not because they’re consciously thinking about it. They just do.
Their eldest son, David, started my love of cars. He used to tear them down and fix them up. He had the racing bug bad. I didn’t have a clue what he was doing, but he let us watch. Mr. Milton taught us the fine art of playing the card game Bid Whist. It’s kind of like Spades, but not. He kept sending us to Boston even though, at the time, we had never visited Beantown. What I learned most from them — and I wish it had sunk in sooner — is how a couple could go through thick and thin and continue to enjoy life together. I’m sure they had their times, but I don’t remember a cross word between them. I will always remember her smile and his broad laugh, something they’ve passed on to their children.
The last time I saw her was in 2013 when she was 81. I instantly recognized her. Had she aged? A little, but that smile was still there. And though we didn’t get a chance to talk much, what we did get to say, without ever saying it, will be held in my heart forever. But the one thing I didn’t get to say with all the people around was, “thank you.” And that brings me to the point of this column. We all have multiple moms and dads. We all have people who come in and out of our lives, leaving behind a little magic. Most weren’t kin, but they saw something in us we didn’t recognize in ourselves. Some were kin — uncles, aunts, sisters, brothers, and cousins. Some gave us inspiration just by showing us that “it,” whatever “it” was, could be done. Unfortunately, some who enter our lives bring fake magic that ends up smelling like poop. Those with the real magic help us decipher between the two. For example, if a person giving advice about men or women has never experienced a successful relationship, our poop alarms should go off. If the person giving advice has been married, like Alice and Arthur, for almost 70 years, that’s real magic. You’d want to give a listen to people who have been there and done that and did get a T-shirt.
Don’t get me wrong. We all learn from failure. We all run into brick walls, most of our own making. But something is amiss if we bump into the same walls repeatedly. But it’s magic when special people around us help pick us up, dust off our britches, and get us back into the game of life. With six children, you know Sister Milton was good at that. And there was something about Sister Milton and Mother No. 1, that I probably knew and had forgotten. Both were born in Arkansas. My mother was from Kiblah, about 200 miles south of Ola, where Sister Milton was born. I would like to be a fly on the cloud when those two get together. The stories I’m sure they’re telling are, as they say, priceless.
Written by: Charles Richardson