My mom's mother died when Mama was 18. They had been very close. Back then, there was the belief that almost any ailment could be cured if a person could soak in Arkansas' hot springs. My grandmother suffered from diabetes and heart problems. She didn't get adequate care because — like most people back then —she had no health insurance.
By the time she was 35, she had given birth to 16 children. One died at birth. Her physical ailments began breaking her down when she was 38, so she and my mother boarded a train to Hot Springs, Arkansas. My grandmother died en route.
My mother, an 18-year-old mother herself, headed back home with her mom's body. The funeral soon followed. My mom's youngest sister was three; her youngest brother was five. Mama took unofficial custody of the two of them, along with two other siblings. Her "mommy" duties, however, were overshadowed by her teenaged desire to go out one night — and that would turn out to be the last night she went out.
She had decided to go on a triple date with her two best friends and told them that she would walk to Ms. Tina's house to meet them. She had to take a back road. She had left her son and her younger siblings alone at home.
She set out in the dark, and there were no street lights back then. She was more than a quarter of the way to Ms. Tina's when she heard something in the woods keeping pace with her. When she stopped, it stopped. She became scared it was a man trying to assault her.
She began to run. It ran with her. She stopped. It stopped. She looked over when she reached a clearing. What she saw had a lion's body, but a man's head. She then did what anyone else would do — she ran harder than she ever had.
She made it to Ms. Tina's in record time, equally exhausted and bewildered by the time she got there. Her friends had been waiting in the car, and by the time she reached for the car door, their level of fear was higher than hers.
Ms. Tina and Ms. Josephine began yelling, "Oh, Lord, there's Ms. Addie!" They all saw my grandmother, and they all heard her tell my mother to go home. Just like that, she was gone. Mama never went to another nightclub.
I don't blame her.
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