With five kids phone conversations are not easy. In fact, they’re almost impossible. Someone is always screaming in the background. Everyone is suddenly starving and needs a snack RIGHT. NOW.
Over the years I’ve learned to postpone important conversations and reserve them for car rides (when all of the kids are strapped in and, thanks to my mini van, really far away from me). On Monday morning I got all of the kids loaded up in the car and we made our way to story time at the library.
I remembered that Maudry had called me the day before and left a voicemail. I gave the message a quick listen before I called her back. This is what I heard:
“Diana, how you doing baby? I’m calling to let you know that Ronald just died….. so I just want to let you know. So, call when you get this message. Thank you.”
Ronald was Maudry’s son. I immediately started crying and called her back. Someone else answered her phone and said she was unavailable. They took a message and said she’d call me back.
I drove all the way to the library in a daze wondering why I hadn’t listened to that voicemail earlier. Why hadn’t I answered when she first called? I wondered how she was doing. I wondered what happened to Ronald. She never mentioned anything was wrong last month when we talked. I know she would’ve mentioned it had there been something serious going on with him. She and Ronald were very close. And then, as I drove, I thought about who Maudry was to me and what she meant in my life.
Maudry Porter walked into my life when I was 8 years old. I saw her every day Monday through Friday for over 10 years.
My family had just moved to a very small town in Louisiana from New Jersey because of my dad’s job and we knew exactly NO ONE. Being an outsider in a small town is not easy. Everyone knew everyone else. They had known each other their whole lives, in fact.
Maudry came to work for our family because my mom (for the first time since I was born) was going to work. Maudry was hired as a babysitter, house cleaner and, when we were really lucky, a cook. She was with my brother, Joseph, and I while our parents were at work. She picked us up from school and stayed with us until our parents were home.
When we were young, Joseph loved playing pranks on her. He’d set up the ladder next to the house and lie on the concrete all sprawled out like a dead person with his eyes closed next to a pile of ketchup. She’d simultaneously laugh her infamous laugh and yell every time he pulled pranks like that.
Maudry cultivated my love of food. She introduced me to chicken thighs, taught me the art behind a well made french fry and made “old fashioned” pancakes any time we were home from school sick. She also gave me my all time favorite graduation present after high school: a fry daddy (because she knew I would be lost at LSU without my nightly french fry fix).
She taught me about integrity by her example and talked to me a lot about how important it was to be true to your word. “You always wanna do BETTER than people expect you to do. Never do the bare minimum. Go above and beyond what you promise.”
Maudry quickly became a member of our family. She became a second mother to Joseph and I. And, in my adult years, she would become a friend. She was one of us. Family. And we all loved her. We loved her so much that even after Joseph and I were old enough to no longer need a babysitter and even after both Joseph and I had moved out of the house, she still stuck around with my parents cleaning messes that didn’t exist.
She was a member of our family, and you don’t let family go.
I’m snapped out of my nostalgic walk down memory lane by my ringing phone. Maudry is on the line. We talk about Ronald and what happened. He had been suffering with unexplained pain for months and had been to the doctor several times without any answers. I sat silently as I listened to her share the intimate details of her son’s death and his final moments. “That was the last time I talked to him,” she says. Even surrounded by the tsunami of heartbreak that comes with losing a child, she sounded strong. Like she always does.
Maudry has never cried the same way I do. She doesn’t crumble or sob. She is like an unbendable force and the tears fall silently from her eyes. She is tough.
As she shares the timeline of Ronald’s final moments I realize something. A couple hours after Ronald died, Maudry called ME. Her son had just died and she was reaching out to ME. She wasn’t just MY family, but I was HERS.
We talked a bit longer and just before I hung up I said “I love you Maudry” the words came out easily but just as they escaped my lips I realized it was the first time I’d ever told her how I felt about her. “I love you, too,” she replied. I knew she did.
Ronald was well known and well liked in the community, and he will be missed by many. He is survived by his wife, Lisa, his daughters, Lacey and Leah, and by his brother, Earl. And he leaves behind his mother, Maudry Porter, who is like a mother to me, too.