Hole in Stocking

“Quick, Mama. Lift up your foot.”

“I can’t,” Mama sputtered. “This seat doesn’t give me any room. What are you doing?”

I bent over, squashed in between the crammed seats, wedged myself down under the row in front, and tore off the sheer knee-hi covering Mama’s cast. “Got it.”

We were flying back to New Orleans from Phoenix after her only grandson’s graduation. At eighty-eight years old, she had four granddaughters, seven great granddaughters, and one grandson. “There’s no way in tarnation I’m gonna miss Mike’s graduation and that’s that.” She was tight-lipped determined. "And he’s getting a Master’s Degree, too.” She was so proud you’d thought she’d earned it herself.

The only difficulty was that we were in a jam-packed airplane with her right foot in a cast from her toes up to her knee.




Ten days before the graduation, the doorbell rang. She threw off the blanket, jumped from the bed, scattering her book and crackers on the floor, and headed for the stairs. She shuffled as fast as her arthritic old legs would carry her, but she had forgotten we’d just waxed the floors and she still had on her little white ankle socks she always wore. Just before she reached the door, she slipped, slammed into the hall table, and hit her head on the marble floor, knocking herself unconscious.

The dogs hated the doorbell and they would daily attack the mail that came through the slot. Reading shredded mail was usual for us. Mama woke up, felt the lump on her head, the pain in her foot, crawled to the door and yelled, “Help, help, anybody please come help me.” She raised herself up enough to open the door then fell back on the floor.

The mailman rushed back and when he saw Mama lying on the floor he figured he might get a medal of bravery if he was able to get in past the dogs.

There’s always that one call that makes you forget everything you are doing or are planning to do. I got that call. Ten seconds later, I was running down the steps to the garage. “To hell with work. Nothing was more important than my mama. Work could wait or fall off the planet.” I flew out of the parking garage and onto the street.

The doctor wrapped up her broken foot as tight as possible and turned to me, “Does she follow orders very well?”

I hesitated, looked down at 5’1” Mama lying vulnerable and innocent on the examination table, “Well…she does have a mind of her own.”

He patted her cast and smiled down, “Now Ms. Lyda, you can not walk on that little foot for three weeks.”

Mama sat bolt up and spit out through thin lips, “I’m going to see my grandson graduate, so if I can’t walk on that thing, then take it off!”

“Now Ms. Lyda, you’ll be able to get around but not on that foot.” He looked at her with a question, “Have you fallen on that foot before? There seems to be an old injury that made the breakage easier to occur.”

Mama looked around for somewhere to hide and stared at her hands. “Well, you see there was that blasted little carpet at the back door.” Of course, he didn’t know what she was talking about but he let her talk anyway. “And it just went whoop out from under me, and I hit my head real bad on the concrete floor and my foot was under me.”

“Mama, when did that happen? You never told me about that!”

She ignored me and looked at the doctor, “Well I was a nurse long time ago and I knew my foot was broken so I know that all they do is wrap it up tight, give you aspirin, and send you home to prop it up. Well, I couldn’t do that. I had to look after my sister Mary, you know. She’s ninety-two and batty in the belfry—if you know what I mean.”

“Oh my God, Mama.”

She ignored me. “I wrapped it up tight with some dish towels and propped myself up with a mop and a broom.” She shrugged her shoulders, “Well, you know, my sister Mary was always paranoid and apt to run off and just do weird things and I had to protect her.”

I groaned. Guilt dropped on me like a ton of green Jell-O, sticky, completely covering me and not letting me breathe because of embarrassment and for not taking care of my old mother. “I didn’t know, doctor. I didn’t know. She never told me or my sister.”

Mama had never told anyone. That was the way she was. She never wanted to impose on anyone and never wanted to cause any trouble.

“Honey, I’ll be just fine. If you could just bring me a couple of aspirin and a little bit of water, I’ll be okay. I’m sorry to be such a bother.”

Her apologies were like knives thrust then twisted into my body. How often had I ignored her or chosen to work instead of spending time with her? I felt inadequate as a daughter and to add insult to injury, my sister teased me about throwing my mom down the stairs. My eighty-eight-year-old mom on crutches and using a wheel chair. And in my house. And it was my fault. How much worse could a person feel?




Surprisingly, traveling with an old mother in a wheelchair has its advantages. “Well, how are you, young lady? Did you break that foot dancing in the Quarter?” The airport attendant pushed Mama and teased her all the way to the airplane.

“Well, I’ll have you know I can probably out dance you, young fella.”

We were always the first on the planes and the last off; this was actually pleasant because many people stopped by and teased her about dancing, drinking, or skiing and breaking her foot. She giggled and agreed with them all.

Graduation went well except for Buddy. Mama had known for some time he was very ill, but she hadn’t told anyone. Now he told us all, then heavy hearted we headed home.

Back in those days airline travel was fun. The flight attendants ran up and down the aisle playing games with the passengers and handing out cheap prizes. It was a party-time atmosphere.




“It’s nice to have a little fun especially after…Buddy.” Mama was seldom emotional and yet she got mad and yelled a lot at her four wild offspring. She’d spit and yell, “Gawd-dang it all. Now I know why mothers in the wild eat their young.” But now, tears filled Mama’s eyes and I just balled quietly.

“Are you alright, Ma’am?” Sitting next to Mama was a hippy who smelled of garlic, wore with uncombed hair, lots of beads, and a long skirt.

Mama covered her nose with her little hand and turned to the lady. “My son’s sick. He is my youngest. We call him 'Buddy' at home, and he was always such a gentle and kind boy. Even as a toddler he smiled with his eyes, trusting everyone he met.”

Once you got Mama talking, it was hard to stop her. “Well, Buddy was always such a good baby, you know. He was our little gift from God; he just cooed all the time and was just so easy to take care of. Why, when he was even just a little tot, he would walk up to people and just talk his baby talk and look at them so interested, even though he didn’t have a big vocabulary, you know.”

I had to rescue the lady. “Mama,” I whispered, “don’t tell her everything about Buddy. There are some things you don’t want other people to know.” She looked down, nodded, bit her lips, and tears spilled down her cheeks. I snuggled close and caressed her arm. “Do you want some coke or coffee?”

She straightened up. “Oh not coffee. I’ll just have to pee and it’s so hard to manage in that small airplane bathroom with this ‘thing’ on my leg. Just gimme my crossword puzzle and a pen. I don’t need a pencil, that’s for amateurs.”

Near the end of the flight, the attendants offered a special prize—a free roundtrip anywhere within the continental United States. There was excitement with a high level of laughter and teasing among the passengers. Mama was always smart as a whip and especially good with games, numbers, and problems to solve. She was winning with no help from anyone. The winner of the free ticket came down to Mama and a businessman. They both continued getting the right answers. Finally as the plane began to descend and we readied for landing, the frustrated stewardess asked, “Ok you two geniuses, which one of you has the biggest hole in your sock?”

The businessman pulled off his shoe and grinned wide. His sock had a hole big enough for his thumb. The whole plane cheered and everyone thought he had won.

“Ginger, that’s cheating. Oh you can’t do that. You put a huge hole in my knee-hi.” She was embarrassed. I don’t think she’d ever done anything wrong in her life, certainly not cheat.

I whispered, “Mama, it’s a free round trip ticket anywhere in the continental USA.”

“Well, I’m not going anywhere with this thing on my leg. I’m so mad and so tired I’ll never go anywhere again!”

“Mama, it’s for Buddy. He’ll be able to come home for Christmas.”

Mama’s eyes grew bigger than her glasses. “Oh, I never thought about that.” She grabbed the sock and under her blanket, tore it big enough for her fist to go through, smiling all the while at the stewardess with her innocent baby blue eyes. She proudly raised the stocking high for all to see.

The stewardess laughed, let out a whoop, relieved that the winner was really an old deserving lady, and announced it to the passengers who had held their breath waiting for the result. The passengers exploded in cheers and applause. My mom, the cheeky old lady, just smiled her angelic smile and never said a word. What a giggle we had as the passengers filed out of the plane congratulating Mama on her win, telling her how deserving she was. I couldn’t have agreed more.

That Christmas was Buddy’s last trip home. He died the next year after losing a heartbreaking battle with AIDS.



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