When Mom was a little girl growing up in Moonshine Prairie, her folks would stop the buggy on the way home from church to let her pick sweet williams. And from the time I heard her tell the story when I was a kid, I made sure that she had a nice big bouquet of the phlox she called sweet williams, every single Mother’s Day.
When the day came that Carol and I had to go west to spend our time teaching on the reservations, I was no longer able to give Mom her flowers. We climbed Peacock Peak one Mother’s Day, and near the top in a grove of Piñon Pine, we found some kind of white phlox growing which was much smaller than sweet williams. I wanted to pick them and somehow send them to Mom, but there was no way we would ever have been able to climb back down the mountain with them.
One summer when we were back home, Mom’s hip broke and she fell. After a spell in the hospital, we took her out to my sister Joan’s in North Carolina and got teaching jobs. The teaching jobs didn’t work very well. My school decided to teach all year, which would have crippled our writing, and Carol had a childish buffoon for a principal who was determined to make life hell for anyone with the nerve to come from Arizona. We made it until December and then found jobs on the Navajo res in New Mexico.
We had just announced our decision to move back west, and were going to leave in the morning. Joan and I were sitting at the kitchen table, playing our fiddles. Mom announced that it was her bedtime and began shuffling out with her walker. Just after she had navigated between Joan and the refrigerator, she paused and turned to me. “Well, I guess this the last I’ll ever see you,” she said serenely.
“Mom!” I said. “Don’t be ridiculous. We’ll be back this next summer.”
We had just gotten moved when Joan rang us with the news that Mom was gone. The thing that came to mind when I hung up the phone was remembering Mom taking the time out of her hectic spring day to walk a mile down into the woods with me to see an ovenbird’s nest. This May will be the first chance I’ve had in all these years to go to the woods for sweet williams. I reckon I’ll leave a handful on her grave.