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Gazing through time by way of Mama’s eyes

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Column by David B. Whitlock

Standing fully in the present moment, there are times when you can touch the past and the future, all at once and at the same time. You even can feel eternity sliding through your fingers.

And sometimes it happens through someone else’s eyes.

I see my mama’s eyes in a black and white photo of her when she was 6, maybe 7 years old — about 85 years ago now. She’s standing next to her mom somewhere out there on the Oklahoma prairie with the Great Depression swirling around them.

Mom’s wearing a simple calico dress and beige stockings. Her short cropped hair and straight trimmed bangs appear utilitarian: easy to wash and dry.

Her mom, my grandmother, is clutching her purse in her right hand while her left is resting peacefully on my mom’s back. Grandmother’s bonnet is pulled down low, casting a shadow over her eyes, worn down by time, fading them, hiding them from my view, preventing me from seeing what they might be saying.   

But I can clearly see mama’s little girl eyes. And they seem to look into mine, peering at me as if to say, “When will you arrive in my future, little boy?”

And then, “Where are you going, young man?”

Now, “What are you going to do with the rest of your life, since you’re past the half-century mark?”

Those little girl eyes see right through me in this moment, then back to yesterday and forward into tomorrow.

It happens all at once and at the same time.

Her eyes are accompanied by a half grin that strikes me as vaguely familiar.

“Yes,” I smile to myself, “those are the eyes of my oldest daughter.”

And now those eyes — the eyes of my little girl daughter, 6 maybe 7 years old — stare through the glass door of our house, waiting for my arrival. “Can we go for a drive, Daddy? Please?”

And then my little 6 maybe 7 year old girl is a young lady, glancing back one more time in my direction as she passes through airport security for departing flights. And she’s gone — gone far away to her big city.

It happens all at once and at the same time.

Now, in Mom’s little girl eyes, I see my older brothers, Mark and Lowell. Mom snaps her fingers, watching us boys through her horned rimmed glasses, commanding us to settle down there in the back of the station wagon, for it’s a long way from Altus, Okla., to Disneyland in California.

Through Mom’s eyes, squinting with the threat of discipline, I can hear Lowell holding something called a transistor radio, tuned in to KOMA-AM radio, listening to Johnny Horton’s “Battle of New Orleans.” And Mark is warning Lowell not to drop the radio from the station wagon’s back window because Lowell is letting the transistor dangle dangerously from his wrist.

I look again and see Mom’s little girl eyes arriving in Fletcher, Okla., where she, now 19 years old, meets my future daddy’s eyes, and both, in that past moment, lock eyes in a forever gaze.

And I can see in those little girl eyes the grief, the joy, and the thrill of living: the death of a son in a car wreck, Mom herself graduating from college once her boys had their diplomas, her travels to Africa, India, Arabia, and Central America.

The serious expression on the  little girl’s face breaks into joyful celebrations of  life in her poems, her collectibles, and her friends, bestowing favor upon my dad, who needs her, beaming with pride in sons, grandchildren and great grandchildren.

And then quite abruptly the little girl eyes bring me to the recent past: Mom and Dad’s 70th wedding anniversary, where her eyes, now in their 92nd year, look to me for help as she grasps my arm, taking tiny steps on the way to the car.

“I love you boys more than you will ever know,” she reminds me. And I know she means it.

But now, I don’t want to look into those eyes — fearful that they may be worn down by time, the years having cast their shadow over them, fading them, blurring them so I can no longer see what they might be saying.

I choose instead to ponder the little girl’s eyes.

And through them touch now and forever in this present moment.

David B. Whitlock is a Baptist minister, author and educator. He can be reached at drdavid@davidbwhitlock.com.