by PL Byrd

After a quick breakfast of muscadine grapes and crunchy toast topped with super greens, I set my intention on making the 9 a.m. yoga class. But heavy traffic got in my way this morning, so I turned the car around and came home. All I could think about was the cigarette pack in the kitchen drawer and how good it would feel to kick back to a nail.

I’m one of those people who’s read Alan Carr’s Easy Way to Stop Smoking three times. I love that book. The little nicotine monster croaked easily after the first try, but was resurrected when my mama died.

Mama was a heavy smoker the last 20 years of her beautiful life and, after her lively memorial service in December 2013, it felt dishonorable to ignore a chance to bond with my sister and nephew over a smoke. Had it been offered, I’d probably have taken a toke and a shot in the church parking lot, too, but Mama would have frowned on that.

A shiny metal keyring-sized cylinder, filled with a small batch of my parents’ mixed cremains, sits on my writing desk. I can touch them anytime I want to. A few of their ashes are floating somewhere off the Adriatic Coast near Vasto, Italy and, in October, Dad will finally realize his dream of traveling to Australia. Mama has no choice but to join him, although she’d rather go to Hawaii.

moms-treasure-boxNear the cylinder is a dime-store box filled with more tiny treasures. A lock of Mama’s long steel-gray hair, held together by a narrow black ribbon, entwines around one of her lipstick-stained cigarette butts.

Now, I realize non-smokers might find this creepy or disgusting, but feel free to honor your mama in your way and I’ll do the same.

The little red cardinal feather lying in the top left corner of the box is a glowing ember straight from Mama’s heart, a gift of warmth that floated through the sky and landed on my arm a few weeks ago while I was working in the garden. Her message? “Have that okra fried with gravy on the side, doodle-lee-do.” Or maybe it’s a reminder that everything is going to be just fine, especially if I wear red lipstick.

Soon, I’ll hit the mat and practice a few sun salutations. Then I’ll smoke another cigarette and think about my mama some more. Then, maybe, just maybe, I’ll pick up where I left off with Alan Carr.

Winston-Salem resident PL Byrd’s book credits include America the Good, Mr. Tony’s Lessons of La Famiglia and Love in the Fourth Dimension: A Restaurant Tale. In the pipe is Notes from Saint Maniac, a collection of stories, observations and abstractions.

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