I don’t remember why it was, but one day in fifth grade, I left home for the bus stop without giving my mom a kiss on the cheek.
I was mad about something, and I was going to prove a point.
And I did. When I ran back home from the bus stop to give my mom that kiss on the cheek, acting like I’d just somehow forgotten.
Point was, I was a mama’s boy, which worked out to my advantage.
Mom, Kathi Roser, to some, Kathi Graham, to others, Granny, to three red-headed girls, Kati Lynn, to her mother, was tougher than nails, which was to become apparent to me as a teen, when my parents divorced, and Mom was left to raise two kids pretty much by herself, with $40 a week in child support and her take-home from her $3.35-an-hour job at a convenience store.
Briefly, very briefly, as in, one time, she paid for groceries with food stamps. It only took that one time.
“I’m not raising you kids this way,” I remember her saying, and that was that. We might not have had much, but what we had, was what we’d worked for.
Mom was always working, side jobs, overtime. By force of will, she worked her way into managerial positions in retail, and one retailer had her as part of a team of store managers who set up new stores.
She was proud of making it as far as she did in the business world without any formal training or education.
The reason she didn’t have any formal training or education: you’re reading his words right now.
Mom wanted to be a teacher, and she was on her way to college when she met my dad. Sparks flew, and they became teen parents when I came into the world, and that ended my mom’s dreams of being a teacher.
Her dreams were thrust upon me. Our house was full of books, and as the family lore goes, it was discovered on a road trip to Pennsylvania the summer that I turned two that I had somehow picked up the ability to read, based on how I was telling people on the road trip what the signs we were driving past had to say.
It’s not hard to figure out how it was that this happened. You read to a kid a lot, and eventually they pick it up.
That I picked it up was to Mom’s peace of mind. I was, OK, continue to be, full of questions, about anything and everything. She told me after I’d grown up about how relieved she was that she could tell me upon discovering that I had learned to read to “just look it up.”
She’d created a monster, a near-literal monster. If you know anything about hat sizes, consider this: that my hat size is 8 and ¼. I was nine pounds at birth. Mom was 5’1” and barely 90 pounds with me at full term.
Childbirth had to resemble a scene out of “Total Recall.”
Then the endless questions. And then me always volunteering her to make cookies for school, which led to her becoming president of the Crimora Elementary School PTG for several years.
Then several years traipsing across Augusta County from one baseball diamond to another as I chased that dream.
Including that one night where Mom played the role of Dad. I was caught attempting to steal second for the final out of a game and, competitive frustrations flowing, burst into tears right there in front of everybody.
“You ever do that again,” she made abundantly clear on the drive home, “and that will be the last baseball game you ever play.”
Her kids grown up, Mom finally found love again in the past few years, getting married for a second time, 25 years after her first marriage ended, and building a home with her husband, John, in Maryland.
All these many years later, and she was living out her dream. She had love, a beautiful home, flower gardens, prosperity.
Life isn’t fair, as we all know. After a life of struggle, she deserved more than a few golden years, but cancer had a different plan.
Mom, being Mom, tough as nails, had cancer down for the count as recently as a few weeks ago.
What I want to remember is how she was looking forward to decorating for Christmas, the plans for which she spelled out in great detail, and how much she wanted me to find an Arby’s near the hospital, and me telling a story to my wife and my eldest niece about how we didn’t have much back in the days after her and Dad got divorced, but every so often, Mom would scrape up the money to take us out to eat, and it was always Arby’s.
And the story about the kiss on the cheek from fifth grade, and how much a mama’s boy I was then, and how lucky I am that I was.
– Chris Graham