Legendary Alabama football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant was once hired by the phone company to do a Mother’s Day telephone commercial. Coach Bryant’s only scripted line was, “Call Your Mama.” When the camera rolled, he spoke the line perfectly. And then he ad-libbed, “I wish I could call mine.” The phone company folks loved it, and they kept it in the commercial.
Don’t we all feel that way, those of us whose Mamas have passed on? I sure do. I think when we lose a parent, especially a mother, we lose part of our history. Sure, we can have photos and letters and clippings and the like, but it doesn’t compare to calling Mama – or better still, going to see her – and sitting for a spell to recall something of the past we share.
When I was writing my first novel, Home Fires Burning, I set it in a small southern town that physically looked a lot like the place where I grew up. I drew extensively on the history of the town and its people, and when the book came out, folks in my hometown tried to figure out who was who, and why I put the fire station on the wrong side of the courthouse square. It was fiction inspired by reality, and when I was writing, I would frequently pick up the phone and call my mother, a native, to get the background on one thing or another. When the book was published, she said I got it right. Alas, when I was in the middle of my second novel, Old Dogs and Children – set in a similar small southern town -- she passed on. I couldn’t call Mama any more. I was on my own.
But in a much more important way, my mother lives on in my writing life. I was born in 1943, and soon after, my Dad shipped out for Europe to fight in the war. Mother filled a lot of empty hours in that small southern town by reading to me. She started as soon as I was old enough to hold my head up, and somewhere along the way, I began to associate words on the page with a story that set off pyrotechnics in my young brain. I was hooked. I hungered for stories, and later, I began to want to tell my own.
What my mother gave me was the gift of imagination. That, more than anything else, is the reason I’m a writer, a storyteller. I can’t call Mama, but every time I sit down to write, she calls me. I’ll bet Coach Bryant’s Mama often did the same.
Robert Inman’s novels are available on Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook, and Kobo e-readers.