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‘If we make it through December’

By the time I encountered my Grizzley on that bricklaying job the first day, we had been seeing the world turn upside down little by little with the rapid decline of Mama’s health.

When you look back fifty years after it all took place, it makes you wonder how you could survive this tragedy we call life. Sixteen years and a few months are not near enough years to condition yourself to deal with facing life without a mama.

Facing Doocy on that warm Alabama morning – that’s one thing – facing this reality, that’s something different altogether.

I can only go back in my mind, vaguely, to the start. I do not remember the first thought when I knew things were badly wrong. I remember, perhaps as a sophomore at LaGrange High School, that Mama was taking herbs to help her combat the lump in her breast.

I guess we knew so little back then. Mama had traveled up to North Carolina to get the herbs from some herbalist woman up in the hills her parents Preacher Miller and Grandma heard about.

They were all doing the best they could with what they knew back then. But to write these words now makes you want to shout “No, no, no!”

By the time realization sunk in that herbs would not work, and Mama made it to the doctor, and immediate surgery planned, I guess it was too late.

I remember the day. I do not know who told me to go on to school the day of the surgery at the LaGrange hospital, but I went on to school that day as any other.

At least my body went. 

At lunchtime, I remember going to a pay phone down a short hallway and calling to see how Mama was.

To crawl back into the mind of that sixteen-year-old high school junior and to get just a sense of what the young man must have felt, it makes you grimace just a little. Oh, we never complained, never questioned, never wondered “Why?” But it is hard to look back and see what the young man was about to endure.

And the more we think on it all, the more we appreciate the events that are about to take place out here on this construction job thirty miles up the Roanoke Road in Rock Mills, Alabama.

The Lord looked down, too. He looked into the heart of the young man, and He knew.

“The Lord searches the heart, writes the Psalmist,” Preacher Miller would preach many a Sunday in his loud, raspy, powerful voice. “He knows when you sit down and He knows when you rise up and He knows your thoughts from way afar off.”

Ah, He sure knew a lot back in the fall of 1972.

You may wonder why we write our narrative as if the young sixteen-year-old boy is another person – this “Pup” as he would soon be called by the fella with the webbed hand and attitude problem.

You may wonder about that, and rightly so. But the mind of a young teenager and the mind of the same individual half a century later are as different as the land from the sea.

I could not feel sorry for me, never have. But I can feel sorry for that young man. And you and I do. 


Mama came home from the hospital soon after surgery that October of 1972. From October to February our lives were as normal as they would ever be again. Ah, could we but go back and live those months again, to seize every moment of five months, to hug that mama whose world was coming crashing down, although she never let on it was so, not even a minute. But in her mind, she must have known things were not right in her poor forty-two-year-old body as she healed from her breast surgery.

I cannot remember much about that Christmas, I wish I could. But things were good. I know they were. Perhaps Mama thought in October that if she could just make it through December, everything would be all right.

You know the Merle Haggard song. It had not been written yet, but Mama's hopes came true and she did make it  to December and she made it to Christmas and she must have been so glad.

That joyful, joyful December passed, and we looked forward to the next one with great optimism, the Christmas of 1973. We had high hopes.

Christmas of 1972 turned into January of 1973, a new promising year, and later that year Merle’s song would come out.

It would come out in at the most ironic of times: October of 1973.

That October would be the coldest month I would ever see.


If we make it through December

Everything’s gonna be all right I know

It’s the coldest time of winter

And I shiver when I see the falling snow.

Ellis County Press

208 S Central St. 
Ferris, TX 75125