Juju sat with her friend, Ramsey, and watched as her mother passed them, back and forth pushing the green mower. Jewel was mowing her own mother’s backyard, as she did every week, it was the summer of 1971. Juju was ten, her mother was fifty, and Ada, her grandmother was in her eightieth year. Juju was eating a fresh-baked roll with butter, as was her friend. They had grabbed one hot right off the cooling rack in Ada’s very small kitchen in Haltom City.
Ada was known for fresh-baked bread and her love of soap operas, Lawrence Welk, and Billy Graham; in that order. Everyone called her grandmother, Ma Ada, Juju just called her Ma. She lived by herself in a 900 sq foot, red house right off a major highway….with a perfect yard. Most everyday she ate the bounty right out of her own garden, but every once in a while she would get a hankering for a cheeseburger. Ma would call in her order to the local Dairy Queen, wait 10 minutes then walk the 30 paces to her backyard fence. The DQ happened to be her backside neighbor you see. One of the kids working there would trot behind the restaurant and meet Ada with her lunch, she always tipped exactly one dime.
Ramsey was a kid Juju’s age that lived across the street from Ma. He had been her companion for about 4 years now…playing catch or hide and seek in and around Ma’s shed. On that particular day they had been hiding and peering out a hole in the wall of the shed as they noticed Ma running around in circles. It was an awkward and funny thing for Juju to see. She stopped laughing when she noticed Ma was chasing a chicken. She caught it, and wrung its neck in one swift movement. Juju had been just familiar enough with the condemned to have given it a name. She passed on the fried chicken served up an hour later when Juju’s mother finished sweeping up the front sidewalk and sat down with a glass of iced-tea. The traumatized Ramsey had run back across the street to his house. Juju sat down at the kitchen table and helped herself to a second roll with jelly this time.
Ma Ada had seven children and her daughter Jewel had duplicated the feat. Ma was not a touchy or demonstrative person. Juju never saw the two women show any emotional connection other than a quick hug when they departed. Nevertheless, it was obvious that Ada was Jewel’s touchstone. They spoke on the phone everyday and Ada’s well-being was always at the forefront of Jewel’s mind.
As the Cadillac backed out of Ma’s driveway that day, Juju turned to Jewel and saw tears in her eyes. They waived bye to Ada and drove west on Catalpa Drive. What is wrong, Juju asked…also tearing up. What is wrong and why do I cry every time you do!!?? “Well, Jewel said, “she is my mama and she is getting way up there in years. Sometimes when I leave I think it might be the last time I see her, it makes me sad. I know I should appreciate every minute I have with her. Do you understand she is thirty years older than me?”
Jewel went on to explain that Juju cried too because she loves her mother and doesn’t like to see her upset. Juju thought about what her mother was trying to teach her all the way home to Hurst. The panic started to hit her when the car was turning onto Oak Street. “What’s wrong with you now?” asked Jewel. You are FORTY years older than me Juju yelled!! That means I will have ten years less with you than you get with Ma!!!
One day in 2001 Jewel came over to Juju’s house for dinner. They went out to a nice restaurant for a steak and were joined by Juju’s partner, Linda. Juju did not mow her mother’s yard every week. Jewel had a very fancy riding lawn mower and took much pleasure “mowing my own damn yard!” Juju did other things for her mother. She had created one golden rule when she reached adulthood. Her mother had provided for her in the beginning of her life and now it was time for Juju to pay. For the rest of Jewel’s life, she never picked up a check when the two of them were out…NEVER.
The dinner was fine and the three women chatted a spell at Juju’s house before it was time for Jewel to depart. Juju grabbed Jewel at the door and a hug lingered. With no words spoken their eyes met…the mutual comparison to that long ago, 1971 day was evident by their shared, flushed faces.
Juju watched as her mother turned, got into her car, and drove away. She shut the door and sat down sobbing. Linda walked over and offered a hug, wondering what was the matter?? Juju told her, my mother’s eighty, she’s getting up there…..every time I say goodbye could be the last time. Juju was marking the moment in her mind, never to forget the tender exchange at the door.
Ma Ada lived to be ninety-three, Jewel very much wanted to match her mother, but came up short by ten years. Juju came to believe the time element meant absolutely nothing. It was being IN the moment, not the length of the moment. Being truly in the moment kept it alive forever and perhaps that is what Jewel was trying to express in 1971. Grab onto this moment, this person…never let go, because one day they won’t be here…but that memory surely will be.
Every time Juju smells fresh-baked bread she thinks of Ada. And the smell of fresh-cut grass is like getting a squeeze from Jewel. Juju has to chuckle when she envisions an eighty year old woman running in circles after a chicken….or another eighty year old woman driving a red lawn mower in circles like Mario Andretti…..full circles.