We Call Her Big Mama

We call her Big Mama, and sometimes Mama Cass.
She is the giant red umbrella that shades our patio during my favorite seven months out of the year, from April to October. On the off months, she hibernates like a big red bear on a shelf in the garage, and I long for the day when spring has sprung and she and I can come back outside to play.
We are well into my allotted – coveted and protected – seven months, but there have been some hitches in my getalong.
The patio was to be resealed this spring to protect its integrity, and I am all for integrity protection. It’s a core value of mine. But it rained before the sealant dried, and now the patio is splotched and pock marked instead of shining with integrity. I assure you that Peter cannot overlook splotches and pocks. The task will be done again.
He will powerwash it and start over, and he will profess and recite Mary Poppins axioms about how “once a job is thus begun, never stop until it’s done,” and “many hands makes light work,” and then “too many cooks in the kitchen,” and finally “if you want a job done right, do it yourself.”
In the meantime, Big Mama Cass leaned in the corner of the yard. Out of the garage, but not posted at her duty. Stretching her legs, but not yet her arms. She was so close, and yet so far.
I will tell you this: a woman can only be asked to wait so long to be united with her bosom friend.
Today, all of the men left for a day of manual labor at the family property in the mountains. I had been the selected volunteer to stay at home with the dogs, as Work Day is a no-dog zone. Listen, I was not sad about this. I love a day in the mountains, but an empty house for the day, a stack of books to read, and two sleepy puppies at my feet? I’ll take one for the team.
If only I had my umbrella. Now that would make for a perfect day.
How hard could it be? She’s only 18 feet long, more than twice my wingspan if I had wings, and shaped like the Saint Louis Arch. Surely, I should do this.
(Stronger women have folded under such famous last words.)
I pulled Mama from her corner of the yard dragged her to the edge of the patio. I leveraged my shoulder under the pole, I lifted with my legs and not my back. Just before she stood tall, I met a great resistance: she was tangled in the bistro lights above. Rookie mistake. Take Two.
I cleared the bistro lights from around her neck, leveraged my shoulder, lifted with my legs. The pole went up, but the umbrella swung a hard right like a wrecking ball. I had visions of a broken window pane and many, many conversations about household duties and knowing our limits. I set it down gently, more or less. Take Three.
Leveraged shoulder. Lifted with legs. Up, up, up she goes. I imagine I looked like I was raising the Flag of Iwo Jima, except as a curly haired lady flying solo and discovering she neglected to put on shoes first. The pole stood tall, only for me to realize I would need to lift it eight more inches to put it into the stand. Down she came. Take Four.
I did the whole thing again, this time with a vertical clearance of eight inches, when suddenly Huckleberry got very curious. He loves a front row seat, his nose all up in the business and the grill. I held, held, held, but simply couldn’t close the deal with a dog between my knees. Down she came. Take Five.
My arms were shaking by now. I needed a pep talk. Mostly, the pep talk looked like visions of my three men returning later today, marveling at the umbrella, and saying, “Wow. You did that?” And the answer will have been yes, if I can just get it done.
I tried again, even lifted it high enough to rest on top of the stand. But it would not go in. Everything was primed, prepared, and positioned, but it would not go in.
(“That’s what she said.”)
I would need to navigate the lift, the direction, the clearance, and the balance – and then free one hand to push the metal release button in the umbrella stand to let the pole slide in. Take Six.
On the sixth try, with aching shoulders, shaking biceps, yoga breathing, and a wing and a prayer, I got it. It slid in like I knew what I was doing, like I do this all day long.
If you were looking on, you might have thought I had just won the World Cup.
Mama Cass stood tall, and I opened her canvas wings to stretch wide for the first time since last fall. She creaked and yawned like she felt as great as she looked. And a cool rose of shade bloomed across my patio.
I had done the thing.
I was every story of the hero’s conflict: man v. man, nature, self, and finally, umbrella.
Like Tom Hanks in Castaway, I had made fire.
Like Neil Armstrong, I had taken small steps and giant leaps.
Like Louis Armstrong, I thought to myself, what a wonderful world.
I poured myself another cup of coffee, I gathered my books and my pens, and I nested into the shade of my umbrella.
And I said to myself, “Enjoy, old girl.”
(It’s the first time I’ve spoken to myself like a tired workhorse, but it felt right.)
I said, “Enjoy, old girl. This is about as great a feeling that a woman can feel.”
Tricia Lott Williford

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  1. My mom painted her entire house outside when she was 80. I’m sure she felt just like you. We come from strong female stock with a beautiful legacy. I just wish there were pictures of the guy’s faces when they realized what you had accomplished with the “help” of only 2 dogs.

  2. Planning. Always planning. My mother was a master of that – every time she decided to tackle a new project, she spent considerable time thinking about every angle, doing research, and consulting with others if necessary. When she was ready, she recruited me, and because of her pre-work, we generally got the job done with hardly a word of instruction between us.

    It was a great relationship!

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