by Travis Cravey
Sometimes, when Momma got home, she wouldn’t say hello, or hug me, or change out of her work clothes. She’d sit down at the little metal desk my father had found at a yard sale and play solitaire. She’d play for hours, silently, until long after I had gone to bed. She didn’t say goodnight, or kiss my forehead, or tuck me in. She just kept playing solitaire. Sometimes I could hear her crying. But she never stopped playing.
On the nights she had her cards out, my father would come home, smile, and put his hand on my shoulder.
‘Momma’s had a rough day,’ he’d tell me. Or ‘Momma’s tired this evening.’ Or ‘Momma’s got a lot going on right now.’
My father would walk me into the living room and sit me down on the couch. He’d always make cornbread and milk and we’d eat in the living room and watch baseball while Momma shuffled and dealt her cards down the hall.
When I was older I thought I’d surprise her by learning to play. I went to the library and found a book and read it over and over again – not because it was difficult, but only to show Momma I was serious.
Finally one afternoon I set up all the cards on the desk and started playing. I played three hands before she came through the front door.
‘What are you doing?’ She raised her voice and pointed at the cards. ‘What are you doing? Tell me WHAT THE HELL YOU ARE DOING!’
I sat, stunned. She had never yelled at me like that. I started crying. She started crying. She wailed as she fell to the floor. Frightened by the sound she made, I covered my ears and screamed.
My father walked into this scene, dropped his lunch pail, and said, ‘Jesus help me.’
He then quickly picked me up and held me and walked down the hall to the living room. ‘It’s okay, Son,’ he said, ‘it’s okay. We’ll make dinner and watch a game, okay?’ He sat me down on the couch and held my shoulders, and looked into my eyes as tears welled in his.
‘Momma’s just tired.’