Mother’s Day: An Ode to a Southern Alabama Angel

My Hero: Editor Dennis J. Freeman and mother, Shirley Freeman, celebrate Mother's Day.

By Dennis J. Freeman

I was having an awful time. I was 10-years-old at the time and in the fourth grade. I had self-esteem issues. I often faced ugly taunting and constant bullying from peers at school. A walk home from school usually turned into an ordeal of being ridiculed and running from harm’s way.

I pretty much ran into a different type of drama at home where I would find myself competing with my other brothers and sisters for affection from our mother. The second of 11 children, I had no confidence in myself as I entered into my pre-teen years. Basically, I was a mess mentally.

But my mother was always my biggest cheerleader. She was always there to lift my spirits when I got down. Even when I failed in things, she made sure to always to go out of her way to encourage me. At that time, I was going through a rough transition in finding the identity my father had wanted me to follow.

My father had the vision of me becoming a great athlete. I wanted no part of being involved in sports. I wanted to read a book instead of going out in the hot sun somewhere and running gassers. My refuge was reading. This is a venue where my mother and I connected strongly. 

My mother is a lover of knowledge and loves to read. I picked up that love, reading everything within my eyesight, from the local newspaper to sifting through National Geographic magazines. My mother supported me in my escape haven, egging me on to keep reading and opening up my mind to a world where limitations are void.

But the biggest impact my mother had on my young life had nothing to do with any piece of literature. I remember one day being extremely distraught, my spirit sharply wounded. My mother, sensing my brokenness, called me into her room as I got ready for school and told me I was going to be with her for the day.

While my brothers and sisters packed up and headed to school, I sat in my living room, having no idea how my day would unfold. I thought my mother would take me to see the doctor to find out what was wrong with me. I was a little bit under the weather, so I figured I was headed off for a jaunt to the medical clinic.

Instead, my mother planned an all-day getaway with me-no husband, no other sibling to squabble with-just me.

At that time, I was fascinated with animals, particularly race horses. I had read several books about gallant race horses such as the great Man ‘O’ War and War Admiral. Unbeknownst to me, my mother planned a day at the races at famed Santa Anita Racetrack.

To this day, it was the most surreal and thrilling moment for me. From the time we hopped on the bus to our destination at the track, the day was a treat. My eyes widened with excitement as my mind raced with joyous anxiety as we stepped off the bus and inhaled the stench of horse manure and a gentle breeze lifted from the rich soil of the racetrack.      

I can never forget how my mother doted on me, how she made me feel beautiful. It wasn’t about the horses or the race track facility we went to; that afternoon was about my mother connecting with a son she knew was lost trying to find himself. That day was perhaps the most meaningful in my young life because my mom showered me with a love that only a mother can.

It was fascinating to sit down and have lunch with my mother as we talked horses and school. It was a joy running around the inside of the track like an aimlessly kid having fun watching the horses ride by and picking up discarded race tickets. I felt alive.

That afternoon was not about horse racing. It was a day where a mother and a wayward son bonded. I never felt special until that day. It’s kind of hard to feel that way when you have 10 other brothers and sisters fighting for your mother’s attention as well. But for that one day I like I was the Prince of England. It is something I will never forget.

By taking me on our all-day excursion from everyone, my mother injected something in me that I didn’t have before. She told me I was special. She said I had purpose. She told me to believe in myself. That day, my mother showed me that love abounded when I didn’t think it did.

And for that I am eternally grateful.

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