The phone call Buster dreaded turned out to be one he appreciated.
“You better come now,” his sister said, “Mom wants to see you and there’s not much time left.”
“Oh crap. This is the-call…isn’t it?” Buster said quietly into the phone, already knowing the answer.
“I think so,” she replied and hung up.
A parents death happens to everyone—some sooner, others later. This one happened in late fall, just before the holidays. He called the feedlot foreman and arranged for someone to cover his night shift.
“Load up,” Buster gestured for his buddy and ever-present working dog Dally to jump in the pickup.
Pulling out onto the highway, his thoughts skittered around like drops of water in a sizzling frying pan. He wasn’t surprised by the phone call. He’d known for a long time that breast cancer would eventually take his mother.
But, ‘eventually’ is different from staring into the implacable eye of a loved one’s impending death.
Buster had always been closer to his mother than his father, however, there were no hostilities. He knew college was no place for him. His mother was comfortable when he declared his intent to be a cowboy and view the world from the back of a horse.
Miles later his phone rang.
“I’m on the road,” he answered.
“You’re not going to believe this,” his sister said, “Mom woke up a few minutes ago and saw the whole family standing around her bed.”
She went on, “Then she announced, ‘For an occasion like this, we need a new set of coffee mugs!’”
Buster cracked up laughing. When he could breathe, he said, “That sounds like Mom, doesn’t it? Still joking, even on her deathbed.”
Morning arrived and Buster stopped at a small import store. He purchased a set of coffee mugs, then jumped in the pickup and headed back out to the highway.
Hours later, he arrived. His mother was weak, but she smiled when he showed her the mugs.
“Are you OK?” she whispered to him.
“Yeah Mom, just fine,” he replied, “how about you?”
She smiled and closed her eyelids drifted back to sleep—all was apparently well in her world. During the middle of the night, surrounded by her family, she passed with grace and ease.
It took a week for Buster and his siblings to handle the necessary details of her death. The night before his departure, he noticed the coffee cups were still sitting on her dresser.
“How about we split these among us, and each one take one home,” he suggested to his siblings.
The next morning, Buster loaded Dally into his pickup for their trip back across the state.
“C’mon girl, we’re working tonight,” he said, “we need to get a move-on.”
With the new coffee mug sitting between him and the dog on the seat, he lined his truck out into city traffic.
Late that night, between sessions of grinding cattle feed for the morning crew, Buster took a moment to put his feet up on a folding chair in the company lunch room. He considered the recent events. It turned out the phone call he dreaded contained his mother’s special gift for him—she held on until they could share a few special moments together for one last time.
“Ya know, girl,” he said to Dally, “I think that might be one of the best Christmas presents I’ve ever had.”
Carefully, he placed his new coffee mug back on the hook and walked outside to attend the machine.
Bing Bingham is a writer, rancher and storyteller. He hopes your coffee is good and phone calls are pleasant on Christmas morning. If you’d like to read more stories of the American West, check out his book, ‘Shaped by the Land’ available on Amazon.com.