When I was in college, my mom sent me care packages. On a regular basis, I could find greeting me after class anything from fruit and candy to clothes and perfume. Sometimes I was appreciative, and then other times I felt like the gift was a little band aid on a gaping wound.
You see, I was battling my own demons of addiction at the time. I think Mom sensed something was wrong, and not knowing what else to do, she would search for the perfect gift, in an attempt to make me feel better. At my lowest, the packages would be opened with frustration and anger. Not even the most fashionable shirt that looked like it was purchased off the runway in Paris was going to “fix” things.
And as the gifts kept piling up, my self esteem, my depression, my will to live, kept plummeting, until finally I hit bottom. “I need help.” I told her over the phone.
And my mom was there for me every step of the way, even driving me across the state line to a treatment facility in Memphis on the day after Mother’s Day 1987. She told me later that she cried the whole way home.
Fortunately, I took to treatment like a duck to water. I was ready, willing and able to do anything to recover, and to stay recovered. Six weeks later, I left that wonderful, difficult, life changing venue with a new outlook, one of hope and determination. Addiction had reared its ugly head in my life long enough. Returning to my parent’s house to enjoy the final weeks of summer break, a new resolve permeated my being.
I spent the time going to meetings, writing, and hanging out with my little sister and brother. One hot summer afternoon, I made a quick trip to the grocery store. My little sister had to tag along. On the way home, a flash of purple in the ditch caught my eye.
“Look at those flowers, Jana!” I exclaimed.
They were regal, standing tall and erect. The green stems shot at least twelve inches toward the sky, the tips loaded with hundreds of small purple blooms.
“I have to bring some of them home!”
I ran towards them, neglecting Jana (a mouthy eight year old), the heat, and the mosquitoes.
“I’m itchy! I wanna go home!” She demanded.
Ignoring her pleas, I plucked a healthy bouquet, feeling alive, present and free for the first time in many years. I grabbed her small, soft hand, placed a few of my treasures in it, and walked toward the car.
To no one in particular, but perhaps to this indignant child and perhaps to God, I said, “Thank you!”
I told Mom the story, and a few weeks later, I learned that my purple flower had a name: Liatris, commonly known as the Blazing Star.
I returned to the University of Arkansas for my junior year a few weeks later. The days passed in a series of highs and lows, as is the case when growing up and staying sober. I had moved into a small apartment, and had gotten into a daily routine of class, study, meetings and phone calls to Mom.
One hot afternoon, there was a knock on my door. A cheerful delivery man presented me with a long narrow package, the return address belonging to my parents. I removed the packing tape, and opened the cardboard flaps. There inside, wrapped in white tissue paper, were a dozen blazing stars. In the heat of the Arkansas summer, Mom had parked her car on Highway 70 towards DeValls Bluff, traipsed into that mosquito infested field, and carefully selected the most beautiful ones.
Never before had a gift moved my heart as this one. I know that she had put a lot of effort into purchasing each of the previous packages, but somehow, this one was different. It was a true acknowledgement of me, my recovery, and my small awakening.
I kept that bouquet for many years, the purple hue fading with time. They were always set in a prominent place in my house. When I looked at them, a wave of gratitude would always wash over me, reminding me just how much I had grown and just how much my momma loved me.
They have long since been thrown away, but the memory is still blazing bright. As I drive down some of these Arkansas highways in July or August, a flash of purple will catch my eye. It always makes me smile.
Happy Mother’s Day, Mom!