Thirteen Dollars

My Mom used to visit every so often. She’d come in for the kids’ ballgames, recitals, and other events where her presence was often undervalued, and always marginally appreciated by those she came to honor. “I’m so proud of you! Great job! You are so talented! Mimi loves you so much…” She’d pour out her accolades and delight with the excitement of a raving fan, sometimes even following up the charge with, “can I have your autograph?”

She always came bearing gifts, too. But not like “real” gifts. She’d bring plastic things. Gadgets, knick-knacks, trinkets, baubles, and tchotchke she’d pick up at the Kangaroo gas station or Dollar Tree between here and her home in Newnan, Georgia. Oh, and candy. Good lord. Always with the candy. She’d spend a month’s social security on Gummy Worms. 

“Tell you what,” I’d say. “Next time, just bring us $300 for the cavities we’re gonna have to get filled, OK?”

And I was only half-joking. Her incessant “gift” giving was a little bit annoying. “Why do you bring them these silly things? You do know this stuff breaks before you even make it back to your house, don’t you? It’s kind of a waste of money.”

She’d purse her lips and smile. “Oh, let them enjoy it,” she’d say. “Even if it’s just for a few minutes. Haven’t you ever heard ‘it’s the thought that counts’?” 

Yes. Yes I have. I’d mumble to myself. So, how about thinking of something else next time…

No matter how hard we’d try to convince her that she was wasting her money; buying things the kids would never use again; and really kind of pissing us off by going against our wishes and continuing to fill our trash bins with useless crap… she’d always show up with a sackful of Gummies, cap guns, action figures, hair bows, and .99 cent knock-off Barbie dolls.

And she was always trying to give me money! Always. Big bills. Small bills. Change from the bottom of her purse…

“Mom, for cripe’s sake, I don’t need the money. Stop. I don’t need it. You feel bad? Why do you feel bad? Trouble? You’re no trouble. Why do you think you’re trouble? You’re family. Stop apologizing for coming to visit. No. I’m not taking your money. And don’t give it to the kids. They don’t need it either. They don’t need anything. We’re covered up as it is already. My gosh, there’s enough candy in there to kill an Oompa-Loompa. I’m not going to tell you again. No. I’m not mad. Why do you think I’m mad? I’m just saying. We don’t need your money. YOU need your money. Keep it. Put it back in your purse and we’ll see you in a few weeks. Go. We’ll see you later. Leave. See you soon. I love you, too. We all do. Bye. Thank you. See you later. Buh-bye…”

One time, a few years ago, my daughter and I went out to the car after one of Mom’s visits, and I found a wadded-up paper towel in the driver’s seat. I opened it up and found several bills  crumpled inside and a note that simply read: Love you.

After shaking my head and rolling my eyes, I put the paper towel in the cup holder and started to back out of the driveway. “How much money is that?” My daughter asked, picking up the folded bills and counting. “It’s thirteen dollars,” she said. “Why would Mimi give you thirteen dollars?”

Exactly, I thought to myself. How weird is that? Why in the world would she give me thirteen do…? And then it hit me, sure as I am typing the words today. She gave me thirteen dollars because that’s all she had.

She gave me everything.

If she’d been able to find an ink pen, peppermint, Band-Aid, paperclip, coupon, or gift card in her pocketbook, she would’ve wrapped that up in a paper towel, too.

She gave us everything.

Gosh, we miss you, Mama.

What a woman.