A Full Heart

Mother’s Day has changed for me.

I know, odd for me to say since I am not now nor have ever been a mother. Still, I don’t have the same sense of anticipation that once made me do things like buy flowers. Or buy a Hallmark card. Or wear a rose on my lapel for church. In fact, I haven’t had a lapel for years now, so pushing a straight pin through the stem of a rose is completely out of the question.

It’s Sunday morning and I am putting the finishing touches on the photo booth in the hallway at church. I am not a professional photographer. Yet somehow I have become the guy who takes pictures of mothers and daughters and families at our annual Mother’s Day breakfast.

The booth, in my humble opinion, actually looks better than the studio at K-mart. A dark backdrop. A white picket fence with a tall arched gate in the middle. A bench. Live tropical foliage in the background. Two Endless Summer pink hydrangeas in full bloom elevated on covered stools either side of the bench.

This is not a painted curtain. This is the real McCoy.

During set up, I will add a little extra lighting. The fluorescent lights overhead make everyone look pale and sickly. Extra ambient light softens the subject. That’s what semi-professional photographers do in order to give the impression that he is qualified to point a camera at little girls sitting in Mama’s lap and ask them to look up and say, “Cheese.”

In the past I have used a couple of my shop lights from home. The ones that look like an aluminum bell with a 60W incandescent light bulb in the middle and an alligator clamp attached to the socket. I usually borrow a couple of music stands from the stage and clamp my lights to those so I can raise or lower them and point them at my squinting subjects.

Think of Jed Clampett photography. “Wee Doggy!”

When I was setting up on Saturday, I noticed that our Youth Minister had a couple of high-tech photo umbrellas in his office. I looked at my shop lights and immediately broke the 10th Commandment. I texted him and asked if I could use his lights for the photo booth.

In one smooth move, we went from Jed Clampett to Ansel Adams.

The ladies looked magnanimous on Sunday morning. Floral dresses. Small children with syrup-sweet little faces. Teenagers, some of whom looked like they’d rather be sitting in a dentist’s chair.

They came in pairs of sisters. They sat in pairs of mothers and daughters. Some filled up the camera with husbands and sons and sons-in-law and daughters and grandchildren. There were closed eyes and wabbly babies that required multiple attempts and lightning-fast shutter speeds. Everyone was there and did their best to endure the camera for Mom.

After about an hour, I closed up shop and put the camera away. I won’t be staying around today for church because I have a road trip planned to go see Laura’s family. I made my way into the kitchen and swallowed two strips of bacon and one pancake for the road.

When I bought the hydrangeas, I had my daughters in mind. Both mothers. Both are spending their second Mother’s Day without their mom. I gave one to Emily before heading out the door. The other one I stood up in the back floorboard of my truck.

It always feels odd to me to be skipping out on church. I was raised in church. My mom and dad had a staunch commitment to Sunday mornings. We even went to church on Sundays when we were headed to Panama City Beach for vacation.

We’d stay through the singing and communion but cut out before the preaching. I wondered if Mr. Vic realized we thought that getting to the beach before supper was more critical than staying around another 20 minutes to hear his sermon.

The visit today serves several purposes. I am going to see my daughter and son-in-law. I am headed to Reinhart College to see my granddaughter’s dance recital. Afterwards, I am delivering a 20ft Oak to their house, which I will be planting next weekend as a gift to them before I kick the tree farm bucket out the window.

I check my route and my watch. I have just under three hours to make a two hour and 15-minute drive, find somewhere to park 45 feet of truck and trailer, and find a seat inside the Falany Center on campus. Plus, Atlanta stands between me and my destination.

It’s been more than 45 years since I’ve been to Reinhart College. I was on the tennis team and our little college played them several times over my stormy tennis career.

Based on memory, the hamlet of Waleska has not changed much. Large Oaks dotted along the highway on the way into town. The road rolls and curves along the lower Appalachian foothills and draws you into its shaded charm.

What concerns me most is where I might park. Small college campuses mean narrow roads and tiny parking lots. Most spaces are made for two-door sedans and hybrids, not farm trucks with a trailer in tow.

When I turned into the drive for the Falany Center, I was met by a wave of vehicles departing from the first show of the day. The first show was over already. Mom’s and dad’s and significant family members were all trying to work their SUV’s back out on the highway at once.

I passed the entrance to the first lot, which was wide and open. I knew that if I drove further into the mouth of the dragon, I may not get back out without the help of a crane. To my left was a grassy median between me and the parking lot. So, I did what any tree farmer would do. I waited for a gap in the line and turned left across the curb, drove over the grass and off the curb on the other side, hoping some campus cop named Barney didn’t see me.

The dancing was superb. The lipstick and tightly knitted hair styles were cute as a button. Little Dorothy was all smiles and twirled to beat the band. As my son-in-law pointed out, I had driven two and a half hours for about 2 minutes of dance. It was worth every mile.

Back at their house we unloaded one oak tree and one hydrangea.

“Where should I plant my hydrangea?” my daughter asked.

“Put it in a large pot on the front porch for the summer and find a spot in the yard this fall.”

Soon, burgers were grilled. The Braves lost in the bottom of the ninth. The kids showed me the new dog bed for the new puppy soon to come home.

On the drive home, I had the windows down. I contemplate when I drive, and I felt full. Not from the burgers. But full of heart.

The focus is different now. But that’s okay.

I spent Mother’s Day with the two moms I love the most.

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