Mother, may I?

Teddy and me

I buried my cousin today.

I stood with dozens of family members, and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of friends as his mother, his wife, and his daughter returned his ashes to the earth, his soul, I’m sure, already in Heaven.

Two months my senior, Teddy was a true golden boy — an adorable tow-headed child who turned into a funny, mischievous, athletic teenager and grew into a smart, gregarious, loving, devoted husband, father, and friend. What seemed like all of Baldwin County turned out today to pay their respects, share their stories, shed their tears, and celebrate a life that touched so very many in what seems like a very short time. Just like they did for Teddy’s dad, who also left us before we were ready to let him go twenty-four years ago.

When my Uncle Ted died at the ripe old age of 44 and I was only 21, it didn’t seem quite as young as it did today. When I was in college, 44 seemed like it would never arrive. And it didn’t for Teddy, who would have been 44 this coming July.

Before death (and school, and work, and life) separated our family, we would regularly gather at my paternal grandparents home in Chickasaw, Ala., for big gumbo dinners — my daddy and his two brothers, their wives, the five grandchildren. We always had a high old time.

There would be piping hot gumbo, shrimp salad, West Indies salad, potato salad, and Saltine crackers. There would be cold Cokes for the kids, a rare treat then, and sometimes Grandpa Mac might give you a little sip of Bud when no one was looking. Granny Mac always kept a full candy dish, and we could have all the sweets we wanted.

Teddy and me
Celebrating our 40th birthdays

After the big meal, the adults would sit around visiting, and all of us kids would usually head out into the yard to play. One of our favorite games was “Mother, may I.” We played it over and over and over and over…

If you are not familiar with “Mother may I,” it goes something like this: One child is “it” or the “mother.” Teddy would always call “it” first, claiming he was the oldest and, therefore, entitled to be first. He would stand on the back steps while the rest of us lined up across the far end of the driveway.

Teddy would scrutinize us, ostensibly planning his elaborate strategy. Then he would say, for example, “Audrey, take two giant steps forward.”

The response, “Mother, may I?”

“Yes, you may.”

Then I would take two of the biggest steps I could muster.

Then he would eye the remaining cousins.

“Martina, take four bunny hops.”

“Mother, may I?”

“Yes, you may.”

“John, take three baby steps.”

“Mother, may I?”

“Yes, you may.”

“Ricia, take six jumps — only on your left foot.”

And so it would go until one of us got close enough to tag Teddy and become “it.” Then the game would start all over.

It was a silly game, but we loved it. We always played it. We always had fun.  We always wound up giggling hysterically at all the crazy antics Teddy could think up to put us through.

I wish I could go back thirty-odd years and play “Mother, may I” with my cousins one more time. Only this time, I’d get to be “it” first because I’m the oldest now.

And the first thing I would say?

“Teddy Boy, take one more day.”