Kimberli Buffaloe is a pastor's wife and creator of Carolina Towns and Trails, a blog featuring outdoor destinations around the Carolinas. Her posts have appeared in online newspapers and e-zines via Blogburst. A recent semifinalist in ACFW's Genesis contest, she also writes short stories, several of which have appeared in Christian Fiction Online Magazine.
I never kept a diary. At least not the bare-your-soul kind. Not since the age of twelve when my best friend found mine and told everyone who I liked, including the boy I named in those sacred pages. The experience taught me never to write anything I didn’t want someone to read. That anything I said could be used against me in the court of life.
Darlie Routier learned that lesson after two of her sons were killed in an attack that nearly robbed her of her own life. Though evidence indicated someone besides her husband had been in the house that night, a Texas jury convicted her of murdering her kids. All because of a vague statement she made in her diary.
I’m sure if Darlie knew of the horror to come, she would have gone back and clarified herself. Used precise nouns and verbs to clear her name. But she didn’t have the chance.
Surely my mother would have done the same.
The call came while I was at work. That night, I listened to the message as I tossed a handful of feta cheese into a salad. “Hon, it’s Aunt Mary.” The digital rendition of my aunt’s voice blipped in places. “Your mom is pretty sick. The doctors say she doesn’t have much time.”
I put the remainder of the cheese in the fridge and set the salad on the table, unhurried despite the urgency in my aunt’s voice. My mother had faced death on a regular basis. The family never knew if she exaggerated her doctor’s diagnoses or if fate mistook her for a cat. Whatever the reason, she always recovered.
Until three days ago.
The funeral was lovely, as Mother would expect it to be, with no carnations in sight. She hated the flower, and in instructions left to direct the event, she ordered the funeral home to remove any they spotted. I brought a handful of them. Since I was paying for the funeral, they let me.
I laid the bouquet atop her coffin. Leaning over, I whispered, “See, Mother? If you had bothered to take a closer look, you would have seen they’re perfectly fine flowers.”
It was the only time she refused to disagree with me.
After the funeral, I drove back to the house in which I was reared, accompanied by family and friends. The grass, a bright green after months of dormancy, had been trimmed, and white blossoms covered a half dozen dogwood trees scattered around the yard. They were my mother’s favorite. In the spring and fall, their delicate branches had a wispy look that reminded me of a Japanese tea garden. A look Mother called an ornamental peace. The image represented our relationship like no other could.
For the next hour, people who loved my mother, and whom my mother loved in return, came up to me, balancing plates of pulled pork and collard greens. “Your mama was such a nice lady. I do wish you two could have made amends before she left for glory.”
I smiled and nodded, pretending I hadn’t heard the rebuke in their soft voices. No one understood the complexities that existed between me and my mother. I know this because I never understood them myself. It seemed the moment the doctor sliced the bond between us at my birth, we began living in separate worlds. What meals we took together were spent in silence or with her discussing business on the phone. Even when I did talk, she paid little attention to what I said. When, as a child, I realized she had more interest in work or antiquing than she did in my grades, I nailed a DO NOT ENTER sign on my heart and kept it there. We existed together until I left for college.
The last of the mourners stepped out of the house, the only common ground my mother and I shared. I went upstairs to my mother’s room and opened the curtains. The house sat atop a knoll on a steep hill, and from her bedroom window I could see downtown Raleigh. Late afternoon sunlight turned the world to gold. A sight similar, I suppose, to what Mother was looking at now. Only that city was in heaven.
The room was as I last saw it—clean, tidy, tastefully decorated with the antiques she so loved. Perishable treasures that now belonged to me. I opened a dresser drawer and then another, carefully rummaging through the contents, and then did the same with the chest and the nightstands on both sides of the bed. Nowhere could I find a diary or notebook that might contain a record of my mother’s life or her thoughts regarding her only child.
Maybe she didn’t keep one for fear someone would judge her unfairly for the contents she’d recorded. Maybe she didn’t feel the need to prove her innocence. As she once reminded me, she’d fed and clothed me throughout the years, and provided me with a nice house that kept me warm in the winter and cool in the summer. I gathered she felt this was enough, that anything beyond that bordered on unreasonable expectations.
I sat on the bed near the footboard and looped my arm around the post. A friend once encouraged me to reach out to my mother, warning me I would regret not doing so. Alone now in her room, I felt no regret. Despite my mother’s lack of parenting skills, she had Christ as her King. Someday, when I crossed the river, we would, as Stonewall Jackson put it, rest under the shade of the trees. Dogwoods, no doubt. In the place Christ dries all tears, I would ask my mother why, and she would tell me. Afterward we would find new ground to share, that of worshipping our King.
Until then, I would move into my mother’s house, where the best she could offer was an ornamental peace.