Crystal Wilkinson, a USA Artist Fellow, is the award-winning author of The Birds of Opulence (winner of the 2016 Ernest J. Gaines Prize for Literary Excellence), Water Street and Blackberries, Blackberries. Nominated for the John Dos Passos Award, the Orange Prize and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, she has received recognition from the Yaddo Foundation, Hedgebrook, The Vermont Studio Center for the Arts, The Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown and others. She has been nominated for two Pushcart Prizes and her short stories, poems and essays have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies including most recently in The Kenyon Review, STORY, Agni Literary Journal, Emergence, Oxford American and Southern Cultures. She currently teaches at the University of Kentucky where she is Associate Professor of English in the MFA in Creative Writing Program.
Narrative from original post:
Written on the occasion of Mothers’ Day 2020
Crystal: “I’ve thought about my mother a lot lately. She died in 2016. Recently I told Ron, ‘I’m glad Mama’s not here to see this. She would have been scared.’ But the truth is I’d give anything to have her back here with me. The morning (pre-pandemic) would have gone like this: She would have called at 6 a.m. to tell me that it was Mother’s Day. I would have been mad that she called. I might have even yelled at her. We were dysfunctional like that. ‘Mama!’ I would have screamed, ‘It’s six o’clock in the morning! On a Sunday!’ And she would have said unphased, ‘What are we going to do today?’ And maybe I would have still been mad or maybe I would have laughed. Then we would have fought about where to go ‘celebrate.’ She would have wanted to go to a popular buffet restaurant where people pick over the food and sneeze and cough and little children stick their fingers in the gravy. I would have wanted to take her somewhere ‘nice.’ I smile and I cry. I’ve thought about her even more lately during this pandemic. I try to imagine how things would have gone. ‘How would that have even worked?’ my son said yesterday while we were on the phone. She lived in a high-rise apartment downtown with other seniors. ‘I would have been worried to death,’ I tell him. I laugh nervously when I imagine our conversation ‘Six feet…No, please don’t go to church…wash your hands, Mama…don’t forget the door knobs…Don’t touch the elevator buttons, Mama…No, I’ll send groceries don’t go out…Try not to touch your face…I love you.’ We would have probably driven over to her apartment and had her come down so we could leave a bouquet of flowers, perhaps a meal and her favorite candy on a chair near the door and waved and cheered. But I know she would have cried, not been able to fathom the idea of not giving us all a hug even when it might cost her her life. She loved us like that. No one loved us more. Like me, it would have been the little ones she couldn’t have resisted. She would have at least hugged our four-year old granddaughter or the nine-year old grandson in a long tight squeeze and then shrugged her stooping shoulders and then went back inside to wait to see what happens. She probably would have prayed. She was a praying woman. I would have prayed too. On this morning I also think of my own children and the Zoom call we’ll be on later. Or maybe they’ll surprise me and come wave from the street. One of our daughters has been in and out of the house in brief stints as we keep the grandchildren while she works as an essential employee. I haven’t seen my other children in months now. ‘Mama, will I ever get to hug you again?’ my son says. ‘I want a hug, too,’ my other daughter says. This makes me cry. And then my mind shifts to all the mothers in nursing homes, in senior citizen facilities, in apartments, in houses all over this city, in cities around the country who can’t hug their children today. I think of mothers in ICU units; mothers who are doctors and nurses; new mothers; mothers who are delivery drivers or grocery store clerks; mothers who are teachers; mothers who have become teachers; black mothers; brown mothers; immune compromised mothers; single mothers; undocumented mothers; abused mothers; defiant mothers; resilient mothers; frail mothers; sick mothers; old mothers; athletic mothers; fat mothers; invisible mothers. On this Mother’s Day we are all wondering what the future holds. I hope a future for us all that involves cheer and the joy of laughter and shared meals and most of all abundant, tight, warm, love-filled hugs.”