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Reminders of Mama still everywhere

I have never met Tim Freeman, but he is one of my favorite people, and has been since last November's Tech-Georgia football game. Tim, you see, is the baby brother of Melinda Sileo, with whom I teach at Heritage High School. Melinda is the chairman of the Social Studies Department, which makes her my boss, in a way. Trust me, she is one of many.

But back to the game. Tim, it seems, has suffered from asthma all of his life and felt the onset of an attack during his group's pre-game tailgate. But he is a die-hard fan, and he wasn't about to let a little thing like a life-threatening asthma attack keep him from seeing the game. He stayed and cheered his team on to the bitter end - and then spent the next three days as a patient at Georgia Baptist Medical Center.

He became my hero as soon as I heard the story. I admire his tenacity, even if he was pulling for the wrong team.

Now I told you that to tell you this. I read a column that Tim had written Tuesday for the Gwinnett Daily Post. It was a beautiful tribute to his mother, Winifred Freeman, who is suffering from Alzheimer's disease and is, as Tim so eloquently pointed out, more away from than with her loved ones.

Tim's truly outstanding reflection - it was so well done that I wish I had written it - elicited a lot of conversation around the lunch table and brought back memories of my own mother.

Someone asked me, last week, how long it takes to get over losing your mama. I had to tell them that I didn't know, but it's longer than seven years, because that is how long mine has been gone and I'm not over her. Not even close.

I don't sit around and mourn her 24/7, and I wouldn't even say that I think about her every single day, because, well, I just can't say that I do. But the strangest things can bring her to mind.

Like the smell of chicken frying. My mama cooked the best fried chicken in the whole long history of the world. Bar none. Don't call to tell me that your mother did, because we are liable to get in a cuss fight. Hers was the best - at least to me. End of discussion.

Sometimes when I am watching television and surf through the channels during a commercial, I will run across a Cubs game. The ivy covered walls of Wrigley Field almost always bring Mama to my mind because during the last 10 or 12 years of her life - the bad years when the emphysema brought on by too many years of smoking Winston cigarettes made her a virtual prisoner in her own kitchen - Harry Carey and the Chicago Cubs were her favorite daytime companions.

In fact, the thrill I felt during my first visit to the "friendly confines" and hearing the great man himself lead "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" was tempered by the fact that I was getting to experience something she would have enjoyed much more than I.

But that was her way. It would take volumes to describe the experiences I've enjoyed because of her sacrifices.

Are there still Hess stations around? My mother drove from Porterdale to Athens every year at Christmas time, even when she wouldn't - or couldn't - drive anywhere else. The reason? To buy a toy truck at the Hess station, out on Atlanta Highway.

It wasn't Christmas unless she had a Hess truck to give one of her grandchildren. My lovely wife, Lisa, almost sold some of those Hess trucks at a yard sale once. We almost broke up housekeeping over it.

Driving through Loganville also triggers memories of my mother, because she couldn't get it through her head that there wasn't an "s" in the word. For as long as she lived it was "Logansville" to her.

Know what else she couldn't pronounce? "Dormitory." She just never could get the "r" in it for some reason. It was always "dom-a-tory" to her, and I was stupid enough to be embarrassed by that. She worked 50 or 60 hours a week in a cotton mill so I could live in one for four years, so any way she chose to pronounce it should have been acceptable to me.

And, of course, anytime I find myself having my own little personal pity party because something hasn't gone just exactly right in my life, I miss my mama mightily because I always knew - as long as she was alive - that there was at least one person on Earth that loved me unconditionally, no matter what. There's a lot to be said for that feeling, y'all.

So here we are on Mother's Day - my seventh without mine - and there just aren't enough words in the dictionary to express my appreciation for all the things she did for me. Somehow, a bouquet of flowers beside that cold marble slab just doesn't get it done.

If your mother is no longer with you, you know exactly what I mean. And if she is - tell her how much you love her and give her an extra hug - from me.

And to Tim Freeman, world's greatest Georgia Tech fan, thanks for sharing a bit of your soul with us on Mother's Day.

Darrell Huckaby is an author and high school history teacher who lives in Rockdale County. Visit his Web site at www.darrellhuckaby.net. His column appears on Saturday.