For a couple of years, I had been trying to get Mama to write my column for one week. Well aware of how much readers loved her, I knew they would be tickled to get her side of our story.
"It's only fair," I told her the first time I brought the subject up. "You should have your say." I smiled. "It's the journalistically balanced thing to do."
A look of mischief spread across her face. She grinned delightedly. "Really?"
That look made me a little nervous, but I swallowed hard and stood my ground.
She arched one eyebrow and studied me for a second, her mind obviously turning. I was getting more nervous, the saliva was dissipating from my mouth. Slowly, she nodded and then chuckled. "OK, little girl. I'm gonna do it." She winked. "You just wait."
Though I was a bit apprehensive about what she might say, I knew she would produce a highly entertaining column. Mama had a way with words as both a storyteller and a writer. I had no doubt she could handle the task. That's why I stayed after her.
During Thanksgiving we discussed it at greater length, and she was growing more excited about it. She mentioned a couple of stories about me that she was thinking of telling. I vetoed them immediately.
"No, you're not," I replied emphatically.
She grinned. "Look at the stories you tell about me."
"Look at the stories I don't tell about you," I countered. "There are some things that can never leave the confines of this family."
A few weeks before she died, I stopped by to see her one afternoon. She was relaxing in her favorite chair, drinking a cup of coffee. We chatted first about this then about that and, suddenly, something popped into her head. She lit up.
"Oh I forgot to tell you," she said with a grin. "I have started writin' my column."
"Really?" I chuckled. "That's great."
Teasing mischief danced in her eyes and she pointed that slightly crooked forefinger at me, holding her coffee cup in the other hand. "You just wait, little girl. Your comeuppance is comin'."
Mama died before she finished the column, but a week after her death I found the last words she had written. In her sprawling handwriting, she had penned her words in the composition book she called her "sewing book" because it was where she kept measurements and sewing notes.
I held my breath as I read her words, and then the tears fell gently down my cheek, for she had written:
"I have had several people say to me, 'You should write a column about Ronda since she writes so much about you.' So here goes. I will have to say good things about her, I'm sorry to say. I have forgot all the bad things. I remember the good.
"My first thought is how blessed we were to have her late in life. She was such a joy. With one in college, two in high school, who would have thought a new baby would bless our home? Bless it, she did. We were all so happy with her."
I called Karen and read the passage to her. "Ronda," she said softly. "That's a gift from the Lord."
Yes, it is. From beyond the grave, Mama had her say. She got in the last word and Lord knows nothing would have pleased her more. To be honest, nothing could please me more, either.
I'm sure this is the only Mother's Day gift I will ever receive, but that's OK with me. For once - maybe the only time ever - I am happy to let Mama have the last word.
And the last laugh.
Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of What Southern Women Know (That Every Woman Should).