The drive to Georgia was extremely long, laborious, tiring, and tedious. The time was, however, the Christmas season, 1977, and, as the Buck Owens Christmas tape reminded us (over the whiny voices of our three sons' arguing about who was going to control the portable cassette player) "Santa Claus is comin' to town!"
"Boys!" I invoked in my most serious and emphatic manner. "If you guys don't straighten up, you're not even gonna see any reindeer poop in the front yard, much less Santa Claus!"
Thoughtfully, they listened, agreed to pipe down, and worked out a time schedule for all three to man the cassette player.
My wife, three sons, and I were headed home from the Chicago area where I was a college student. "Home" was Waycross--headed home for the holidays! Our destination sounded so heartwarming! We had not been for six months, and we were starving to see familiar faces, popular places, and serene surroundings.
The remainder of the trip was a uneventful as a thousand-mile trip could be travelling with a nine, seven, and five year old, and an edgy wife entering the throes of PMS; however, we arrived unscratched except for scratchy vocal cords.
As was typical for South Georgia in December, Mama had the front door open so the slightly-less-than-warm breeze could filter through the screen door and permeate the house with its briskness. Strolling ahead of my family, I approached my mother's daybed. This resting place was where Mama parked in her night gown the entire soap-opera day, and today was no different. As I glanced down, I noticed a bald, white-shirted, somewhat stoop- shouldered man kneeling next to my mother.
Upon hearing my noisy entrance, he turned and greeted me. "Hello, Jimmy. How would you like to take your mother to the hospital?"
It was Doctor Floyd Davis. He had been our family physician forever, it seemed. All in one breath, I bade him hello and asked the nature of Mama's illness.
"Influenza, I think," he said, "but I'm not sure. It's just my educated guess."
With my family settled in, Mama and I rushed to Memorial Hospital. Settling her down in her gown, the bed, and the IV, I drove back to the home place. Daddy had arrived home from work and had already received the news about Grandma from his three rambunctious, wide-eyed-but-seriously-concerned grandsons.
Because Mother's condition did not appear too serious, we spent the week with other family members, friends, and visiting familiar places. It would be at least six months before we would visit home again, or so we thought. Our week was a busy one, so we did not spend much time at the hospital. After all, children under twelve weren't allowed.
As we fraternized with loved ones, the week passed quickly. Daddy brought Mama home from the hospital the day we were scheduled to head back north. The weather report revealed a winter snow and ice storm moving toward northern Indiana, and we did not want to face that hazard along with the New Year's Eve traffic on I-65.
Rushing by my parents' house, I instructed my family to stay in the car. Have you ever tried to round up three little boys hell-bent on capturing grasshoppers, crickets, and frogs? Somehow, rounding up a thousand head of cattle didn't seem as formidable a task! Historically, we had been a hugging and kissing family. The words "I love you" were common ones in the Kurtz household. Today, however, I was in a hurry. Racing into the foyer, I hurriedly explained that a snow/ice storm was fast approaching Indiana, that we had to hit the road, and that we would see Mama and Daddy the following summer.
No I love you.
Only, see you in June! Three weeks passed, and I was settled into a new night job and a new college semester. I had just arrived home from work about 1:00 A.M. one snowy, subfreezing morning and had collapsed into bed when, around 2:00 A.M., the telephone rang with an ominous sound.
"Seems there are never any happy phone calls at 2:00 A.M.," I mused.
"James," my father's familiar voice simply said, "we lost your mother tonight."
Somehow, I thought someone was playing a cruel trick on me. Somehow, my brain would not compute his words. I muttered something sounding more like an idiot than a college student.
"Hello, James," my brother solemnly said as Daddy handed him the phone, "Mama just died a little while ago of a massive heart attack."
After a short detailed-filled conversation, I hung up the receiver and Connie, my wife, placed her arms around me.
"I never did get to give her a hug," I sobbed. "I never did get to give her a kiss. I never did get to tell her, 'I love you.' I never did get to tell her goodbye. And now? Now, it's too late!"
And I? I live with regret, because . . . I never did.
James D. Kurtz, Sr.