The Last Time I Ever Saw Mom


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen 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 our5970678010_27968bcfe6_m 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 nursing home falls-thumb-300x199-40655make 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.DSC_0348

“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.SweetWilliam1024


Tom Phipps


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4 thoughts on “The Last Time I Ever Saw Mom”

  1. Truly inspiring, Tom, your mother would have loved it. The photo with her kids was a nice touch. The story brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for sharing it.

    1. Thank you. I appreciate that. Of course this is all ‘way bigger than I am.

      The Navajo had a story, which like all their stories was bafflingly brief to Whites:

      Why are you crying?

      I have no mother.

      And then there was another science teacher besides me at Ch’ooshgai, a Navajo, a Mr. Cheeko. He lived in a hogan and bathed in a tub. When he found out that I’d lost my mom he told me that he’d lost his mother ten years earlier when she had been rear-ended on HWY 666. He said, “Lose your mother? You never get over it.”

      No, you don’t.


      1. One never gets over the loss of a mother. I lost my mother thirty-five years ago and it still hurts. On Mother’s Day I’ll take her picture from the wall and set it on the table so she can join us for dinner. It has become a tradition. While we have dinner, I share secrets and favorite stories about her.

        In my book, I created a language where mother and world have the same meaning, and it is true that for the first nine months of our life, our mother is our world.

        When I look at my mother’s picture tonight I think of a verse by Emily Bronte:

        “But that lock of silky hair,
        Still beneath the picture twined,
        Tells what once those features were,
        Paints their image on the mind.”

        1. Susan,

          Thank you for sharing your story about your mother and the lovely poem, too. I am glad there is a day once a year when everyone can thank and appreciate their mothers. One can only hope the other 364 days do not pass without the same respect and caring being given to the mothers of the world. Happy Mother’s Day to you and all mothers everywhere!


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