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What has happened to Eb Griper?

Country Roads

I was sitting in the coffee shop, by myself, sipping on a tall Columbia Supremo. It had been a difficult week and I need some alone-time to think.

A voice from behind surprised me. “Well, you’re looking mighty glum today, big boy. What, did you lose your best friend?”

It was my old buddy, Eb Griper. He’s usually a grim old man but not a bad guy.

“In fact, Eb, I did lose my best friend,” I replied. “My mother passed away last week.”

Normally, Eb has a smart aleck response to anything I say but today he said nothing. He pulled up a chair and sat down.

After a few sips of his coffee, Eb said, “I’m sorry, friend.” This was the first time in 30 years that Eb referred to me as a “friend.”

“Thanks.”

“Losing your mama is tough,” Eb said. “I lost my mother nearly 25 years ago and I still miss her. A man who has a good mother is a blessed man.”

“Yep,” I responded. “I am a blessed man.”

With an ornery grin Eb asked, “So, tell me ̶ did your mother spank you when you were a kid?”

“Yes indeed, even slapped me across the face a few times.”

“Ooohh…” Eb said with a grin, “what did you do to deserve that?”

“I was being a nasty little smart ass. Each time.”

“So did the slap help straighten you out?” Eb asked.

“Eventually,” I said. “I needed several before I grew up.”

“You’re a lucky man. Your mama loved you so much she wanted you to grow up decent.”

“I hate to think what I would be like if she hadn’t disciplined me.’

Eb continued: “So was your mama a good cook?”

“If she were any better they would have sent her to culinary school in Paris!” I bragged.

“The reason I asked,” Eb said, “is because looking at you I figured she had to be an excellent cook.”

I ignored the backhanded compliment.

“Did your mama love the Lord?” Eb asked.

“Yes, indeed, and she wanted children to love him, too,” I said with a lump growing in my throat. “She taught a pre-kindergarten Sunday school class for years.”

The lump in my throat grew larger, but I continued, “Mom and Dad both taught us kids about the Lord, each in their own loving way. Our father taught us God’s law and Mom taught us God’s mercy and grace.”

Eb stared out the window for a few seconds and then said, “My mama did, too. I didn’t realize how much I learned from her until after she was gone.”

Eb took another sip of coffee and continued, “I was a handful when I was a kid. Even got thrown in jail one night for drag racing my ’32 Ford coupe down Main Street. Daddy was burnin’ mad when he bailed me out the next morning but when I got home Mama told me to sit down at the kitchen table and served me pancakes and sausages. I didn’t deserve that.”

“That’s grace, Eb; undeserved mercy. Good mothers excel at it.”

Eb scratched his whiskered chin. “Ever tell your mama you loved her?”

“Many times in recent years,” I replied. “But I regret not telling her that when I was a rotten kid.”

Eb looked me in the eye and asked, “So, did you cry when your mama died?”

“Like a two-year-old,” I admitted.

“Me, too.”

I couldn’t believe the conversation I was having with Eb, normally a crabby old pessimist.

“Eb,” I said, “this isn’t normal. You’ve been so nice to me today. What happened?”

Eb looked over his greasy eyeglasses and as kindly as I’ve ever seen him he said, “Losing your mama is one of the worst things that can happen to a man. I had to treat you nicely today.”

AUTHOR’S NOTE: While Eb Griper is my imaginary friend and this conversation is fictional I did indeed lose my mother on Nov. 29 and the opinions expressed are sincere. Mom was a best friend to my siblings and me and to the hundreds of people who knew and loved her.

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