Mom, I.O.U.

I imagine Mother’s Day is a very sad occasion when it comes around for the first time after you’ve lost your mother. For a mother who loses a son, it must be that much more sorrowful to face the day without him for the first time.

So my heart goes out to Maud Bryant, Browning Bryant’s mom, who lost the bright shining star in her life late last year.

She told me, though, that as she approaches this holiday, she has found solace in a letter he wrote to her for her 90th birthday in 2016. I later found out that the letter was adapted from a Jimmy Dean song called “I.O.U.” that reached the country top 10 in 1976.

Browning intended to read it to her at her birthday party, but it was so noisy, he didn’t get to. But she came across it the other day and offered to share it.

“Let me tell you, this letter that he wrote to me, every mother would certainly appreciate what he had to say to me,” she said.

I agree with her on that. Pretty much everything he said would apply to my mom, too.

Browning, in case you don’t know, was a Pickens native who rose to national fame as a singer in his pre-teen years back in the late 1960s. I became a friend and a musical collaborator with him in the early ‘80s.

He starts the letter talking about finding a bunch of I.O.U.s in his wallet, some of them “30 or 40 years overdue.”

“Funny thing is — that all these I.O.U.s are owed to one person,” he wrote. “And I kinda feel like right now might be a pretty good time for an accounting. … Mom — you listenin’?

“Mom, I OWE YOU for so many things. A lot of services, like night watchman for instance, or lyin’ awake nights listenin’ for coughs, cries, creakin’ floor boards and me comin’ in too late. You had the eye of an eagle and the roar of a lion, but you always had a heart as big as a house.

“I OWE YOU for services as a short-order cook, chef, baker of all sorts of cakes shaped like gingerbread men, footballs, drummer boys, guitars, drums and Easter bunny rabbits with floppy white coconut cottontails with three little black jelly beans arranged directly behind it. For years of milk and cookies left for Santa before Dad rode me on his shoulders to bed. I OWE YOU for makin’ sirloin out of hamburger, turkey out of tuna fish and a big old strapping boy out of leftovers.

“I OWE YOU for cleaning services, for the daily scrubbing of face and ears — all work done by hand — and for the frequent dustin’ of a small boy’s pants to try to make sure that he leads a spotless life, and for washin’ and ironin’ out the problems of growin’ up.

“I OWE YOU for services as a bodyguard, for protecting me from the terrors of thunderstorms and nightmares and too many green apples. And Lord knows, I OWE YOU for medical attention, for nursin’ me thru measles, mumps, chicken pox, bruises, bumps, splinters and spring fever. And let’s not forget medical advice either, oh no; important things like — ‘Don’t scratch it or it won’t get well,’ ‘If you cross your eyes, they’re gonna stick like that.’ And probably most important of all was, ‘Be sure you got on clean underwear, in case you’re in an accident.’

“AND I OWE YOU for veterinarian services for feeding every lost cat or dog that showed up in our yard or on our doorstep, and for healin’ the pains of puppy love.

“AND I OWE YOU for entertainment; entertainment that kept the household goin’ during some pretty tough times, for wonderful productions at Christmas, Fourth of July and birthdays. And for making make-believe come true on a very limited budget.

“I OWE YOU for construction work, for building kites, confidence, hopes and dreams, and somehow you made ‘em all touch the sky; and for cementin’ a family together so it’d stand the worst kinds of shocks and blows and for layin’ down a good strong foundation to build a life on.

“I OWE YOU for carryin’ charges, for carryin’ me on your books for the necessities of life that a growin’ boy’s just gotta have; things like — oh the 10s of pairs of cowboy boots; Roy Rogers cap pistols; rocky horses; Tommy Walkers; roller skates, pogo sticks; ‘Joe Palooka’ punchin’ bags; tricycles, bicycles, ‘Popsicles,’ Allias-Chalmers toy tractors, oh! and let’s not forget the toy, and then ‘real’ guitars! And all the battalions of little green army men; G.I. Joes; and the all-too-real paint job on the side of the house as a result of my ‘mud-clod’ grenade attack while engaging in a make-believe enemy assault!

“And one thing, Mom, I will never, ever forget — When there were only two pieces of apple pie left and three hungry people, I noticed that you were the one who suddenly decided that you really didn’t like apple pie in the first place. These are just a very few of the things for which payment is long overdue. The person I owe ‘em to worked very cheap. She managed by simply doin’ without a whole lot of things that she needed herself.

“MY I.O.U.S ADD UP to much more than I could ever hope to repay. But you know the nicest thing about it all is that I know that she will mark the entire bill paid-in-full for just one kiss and four little words: MOM, I LOVE YOU.”

Thank you for sharing Browning’s letter, Mrs. Bryant, and happy Mother’s Day to you! And happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers of Pickens County, especially to Bonnie Barnett, my mom! What Browning said goes for me, too.