There was one hit in a thousand clear misses when it comes to Mother's Day

Rick Bragg
Credit: John Cuneo

For half a century, I have failed at getting my mother a thoughtful gift for Mother's Day.

I thought, as I stared at the pitiful condition of her kitchen's screened door, I had found a thing that could not miss. It was not just that the screened door could no longer keep out the flies; I was not altogether certain a turkey buzzard, or a pterodactyl, could not glide through. I headed for the hardware store, but I didn't even make it out of the driveway before my conviction came apart like that raggedy door.

You might think Mother's Day would be easy for me. I have written about her for three decades and should have her figured out. But in all that time, the only truly adequate gift I have given her was two grocery bags full of pork fat, but that is another story. One hit in a thousand clear misses.

I got her a classic, two-tone blue 1956 Chevrolet. She used it as a greenhouse. I got her a house. It had too many light bulbs. I got her another. The driveway is too steep. I got her false teeth. She spit them out in the weeds, just outside Pell City, Alabama.

It all failed. Jewelry is frivolous. Cute stuff and doodads gather dust 12-deep on the windowsills. "How many piggy banks," she asked me once, "does a poor woman need?" Cut flowers sometimes made her sad; live flowers required
digging a hole.

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Finally, I decided to sit down with a No. 2 pencil and list the things I knew she enjoyed. This amounted to good coffee, snuff, Westerns, and TV preachers who preach the Full Gospel and have excellent piano players. She is, as we have written here, also fond of mariachis.

I crossed them off one by one. You will pay hell getting a mariachi to do a command performance at the end of our driveway, and I am pretty sure I cannot afford a TV preacher. Westerns, then? I considered DVDs—which she calls "them little round things"—of her favorites, but that would require teaching her to use the DVD player, and there is no time for that, she said, before the Lord comes back.

Snuff, then? And coffee? She said I was wasting money, and it was a sin to waste it on such vices.
"They're YOUR vices," I said.

But that door, now, that door needed to be replaced. But first, I asked her. I should have known better.
"Can't," she said.
"Why?" I said.
"The cats," she said.
"What do the cats have to do with it?" I said.
"The cats tore it up in the first place, hangin' on it. It would be foolish to get them a nice, brand-new door, just to hang on and tear it up like they've done."

The terrifying thing is, she kind of made sense.

I decided to give her money. I heard she spent it on snuff and coffee.