My mother grew weary with cleaning baby bottles, changing diapers and doing laundry. She wanted to be an attorney, reading, memorizing the law and settling legal cases in an orderly court room. But she had fallen in love with a preacher and found herself playing the piano, typing the weekly bulletin, listening to people’s troubles and having the preacher’s babies. I was the fourth and the last baby. The pictures of my mother from back then show her pale, gaunt and strained.
We were surprised when she allowed Bobby Booley to join our family. His mother, a waitress at the Woolworth’s lunch counter, knocked on the door one morning and looked my mother in the face. Mrs. Booley’s hands were clasped at her chest, as if in prayer. “I’ve seen how my boy likes to play with your children. I wonder if you would mind Bobby’s staying with you while I’m working.” I watched my mother’s face. Bobby was the new kid in our neighborhood and we liked him a lot. But my mother had had her fill of making peanut butter sandwiches, wiping runny noses and bandaging skinned knees.
Her shoulders slumped with defeat but defiance spoke. “Why not?” Her eyes rolled up toward heaven.
Bobby Booley and I were both four years old. He lived with his mother in a small apartment at the back of Dr. Murchison’s house. I did not know where Bobby’s father lived or what he did. But when I asked Bobby about his Daddy, he got mad. His face turned red and he jumped out of his seat. “I don’t know where he is but I can tell you one thing for certain, Elaine Blanchard! He sure ain’t in prison.”
Bobby caught tadpoles with us down at the creek. He helped us gather pecans from our trees; he helped us shell them, bag and sell them. He went camping with us on our summer vacation at the Smokey Mountains. He attended Sunday school and church, snuggled close to my mother’s side during the preaching. On the first day of kindergarten, Bobby and I walked to school holding hands.
I saw my mother’s patience enlarge. I might have been jealous had Bobby’s company not made our lives so much better. I guess my mother found a ministry of her own or a case worth defending. Because she found time to read Golden Books to both of us, showed us how to plant vegetables in the back yard, even allowed us to make a terrible mess in the kitchen where we learned how to make cupcakes and ice them.
Bobby and his mother moved away in the middle of second grade. Later, I learned they moved to be closer to the state penitentiary.
This I believe: Bobby Booley helped my mother see the benefits of her life as it was. Sometimes life doesn’t give us our first choice. But what we’re given may be even better.