Call Yore Mama

The late football coach Bear Bryant made a television commercial for the phone company in Alabama some years ago.  The script called for a very brief appearance by the Bear, who was to pick up a phone and simply say, “Call yore mama.”  When the camera rolled, he picked up the phone and said, “Call yore mama.”  Then he paused for a second and ad-libbed, “I wish I could call mine.”

The Bear offered to do it again and follow the script, but the folks from the phone company wouldn’t hear of it.  Perfect, they said.  And when the commercial played on television around Mother’s Day, the phone company did a record business.

Bear Bryant left his mama on the farm in Moro Bottom, Arkansas back during the Depression and went off to college with all his belongings in a paper sack.  He became a world-famous man, and by the time he retired, he was the winningest college football coach in history, with a fistful of national championships.

His name was synonymous with athletic excellence.  But he would always tell you that he rules he lived by were the ones he learned at home with his feet under his mama’s table.  He would always tell his players to perform on the field in a way that would make their mamas and daddys proud.  He figured if you could play on Saturday and look your mama in the eye on Sunday, you had done all right.

I’ve always believed that if we’re lucky – and smart -- we don’t get too far from our raising.  There are lots of good mamas and daddys, and they send their children off into the world with qualities that last.  The first things kids want to do is to be independent, untie the apron strings, kick off the traces, make their own rules.  But oh, how often we find ourselves coming back to what we had to begin with.  Faced with difficult decisions, we wonder deep down inside what mama would say.  Could we look her in the eye on Sunday morning?

Bear Bryant had it right.  I think he called his mama long after she was gone.

The Girl He Couldn't Do Without

They’re honeymooning at the beach – our young friend and the girl he couldn’t do without.

It’s a piece of advice my mother gave me when I was single, dating this girl and that one, occasionally bringing one home to meet the parents.  “Marry the one you can’t do without,” Mother said, and I took her advice to heart.  When things began to look a trifle serious with a young lady, I would ask myself, “Could I do without this one?” In every case but the last one, I could.  Then I met Paulette.  We’ve been married for 46 years.  I couldn’t do without her back then, and I can’t now.

I suppose it’s a tough yardstick to use when you’re considering a relationship that could become a lifetime.  But as mother said, if you choose someone you could do without, the odds are you eventually will.  Better to be tough going in than tough coming out.  Better a broken heart when a relationship is in its infancy than when it’s over.

So Paulette and I joined the crowd of friends and family in a rural Baptist church in south Alabama last weekend to see John and Candy begin a life together.  The way they looked into each other’s eyes as they stood before the preacher and said their vows told us they’ve chosen the ones they can’t do without, and that bodes well for a long life together.

There are times in any marriage when things seem to be coming apart at the seams.  It’s easy to just walk away.  But if the person on the other side of the conflict is the one you just can’t do without, you’ll make the extra effort to work things out and keep the partnership together.

I thought about my mother’s advice a lot when I was writing my new novel The Governor’s Lady which comes out in September.  There’s a marriage at the heart of it, and there a point where Cooper and Pickett have to face the essential question: can they do without each other?

Every good story needs a dilemma at its heart.  How the characters respond to the dilemma tells us who they are and how the story unfolds.  How this one unfolds will have to wait for September.