April 1, 2011

The Black Sheep
Oh yeah, I’ll admit it, I’m a mama’s boy. And when you come right down to it, I’d be willing to bet that most men that are secure in who they are will say they are too. I didn’t have the advantage of a loving, stable father figure in my life, so I leaned on mama my entire life, until hers was over.

Mama was a restless, free spirit, plain and simple. Born almost square in the middle of older and younger siblings, she became the proverbial “black sheep of the family”. Now this wasn’t because she was loved less than the others, no, grandma and grandpa loved each of their children passionately. She became the black sheep of her own free will.

George Newton Burkett, my grandfather and Clementine Elizabeth Vann, my grandmother, were third generation Texans. They were married in 1906 and during the course of their fifty some-odd years together they had eleven children and ten of those were girls. One daughter died as an infant and one before she turned nineteen. I was named after the only son they had and Stephan died at the age of two. So Grandpa was left to live out his life navigating the surly waters of a raging river of estrogen while raising all daughters.

Raising that many kids is tough enough, but raising all daughters makes it treacherous, especially if one of them decides to run the roads and live the high life before the age of twenty. Aunts I’ve spoken to and visited with over the years told me there was just something different about mama, something that didn’t reside in the other sisters. As soon as she was old enough, she headed out to the bars and honky-tonks that dotted the central Texas landscape before, during and after World War II. Years of living that lifestyle obviously led to bad choices in men as she would end up married and divorced four times from 1941 until the mid ‘70’s. Out of eight daughters she was the only one that wasn’t married to one man her entire life and until death did them part.

But beneath the many complicated layers of mama’s troubled psyche, was a fascinating and wonderful woman. She had the ability to be the life of the party and to voluntarily become the butt of any joke, all the while laughing at herself. She possessed a tender soul and a happy spirit that existed in harmony, unbelievably, alongside an almost invisible  depressive state. Years after her death, I would think of her and I could plainly see the scars she would sometimes reveal from the wounds of life and love. During states of depression, she would pen beautiful stories that would make your soul soar and almost in the same course of time, she would write the most heart-wrenching poems you ever read.

Mama was a strong and loving woman too. After her last marriage was over, her ex husband suffered a massive stroke and was disabled for the rest of his life. Mama was immediately by his side and would spend a good bit of her free time helping to ease his suffering when time would allow. Although their marriage ended years earlier out of her inability to live with another alcoholic, her love was true until the end.

I remember how much joy she received in singing the old gospel songs she grew up with in the little country churches she used to attend. I can still hear her singing “In The Garden”, her very favorite song, at the top of her lungs while bustling around in the kitchen making supper thinking that no one else was around to hear.

I think of how passionate she was about her children and the joy she received when one would come to visit without her knowing. She loved reading the old Readers Digests while sitting in her favorite rocking chair while tuning one ear into the family laughing and cutting up watching TV. She loved cottage cheese and fruit lightly sprinkled with black pepper and sometimes would share a bite with me if I asked her “What’s that mama?”

She loved comical situations and she’d tell funny stories about herself just to hear other people laughing. She loved to sew and create, repair and finish articles of clothing on her Singer sewing machine while sitting on the edge of the bed listening to KCOM playing her favorite old country songs from Bob Wills and Ernest Tubb.

One day mama was supposed to accompany my sister on the errands she had to run. My sister’s phone rang that morning and it was my mother asking her to come and help her get out of bed, because she just couldn’t seem to raise herself up. They lived directly across the street from one another, so my sister was standing at her bedside literally within one minute. She was able to help her up, but she new something was dreadfully wrong. A visit to the doctor brought the stunning and heartbreaking news. Mama had cancer and it was extremely advanced. A tumor the size of an orange was pushing against her spine and was the culprit that was limiting her mobility. Chemotherapy, radiation, baskets of medication and day-to-day praying kept mama alive for two more years. It was a full year and a half longer than the doctor had given her.

Evelyn Estelle Burkett was a simple woman with a simple style but lived a painful and weary life. She lived a life more difficult than anyone should ever have had to live, even though most of those difficulties could have been avoided had she just taken some right turns instead of lefts during her short 63 years.

 Mama gave up her fight and her tired soul flew away to be with Jesus on May 4, 1989. We laid her to rest in a local cemetery on the outskirts of Abilene, Texas on that beautiful spring day. Brothers, sisters, friends, other family members and church folks all came out to pay their respects to Mama that day. It was a beautiful and memorable service for sure.

As you can tell by the previous, my mother was a big influence on my life. As a lifelong smoker, she taught me not to take up the habit, by doing it around me. To this day, I’ve never been a smoker. She taught me that sometimes all you can do is laugh at some of life’s situations. Now, I can find humor in pretty much any situation. She never pushed faith or religion on me, but encouraged me to seek the truth for myself and to make my own decision regarding “what’s after this life?” I have no qualms in saying that I am a born-again, Jesus loving, Bible reading Christian and I will never, ever apologize to anyone for that.

Although mama’s life and in a few instances how she lived it, took me down some dark roads, but later on, I began taking the well lit paths. Now I don’t look back with regret or shame on the wrongs I’ve done in life, because I know that two very important people have forgiven me for all of that.

If you've been a reader of the Impulsive Texan since I began the blog late last year, you’ll recall I decided not to make New Years resolutions for 2011 and up my chances for failure. Instead I chose to thank those people in my life that had positive and profound effects on me and who I have become. There is no one else anywhere that has made as important an impact on me like my mama. Well, there is one, but I’ll write about Him later. Thanks mama, for all you did for me, right, wrong or indifferent. All of the wrongs and rights in your life, has made me a happy and content man. Sometimes being the black sheep ain’t really  a bad thing.

The Impulsive Texan