Magnolia White and the Red Bud Blues


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Oct 28, 2010
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Well my friends... it's been a very rough week in Roberteaux-Land, as two nights ago I lost a woman I loved more or less on sight, and who came to serve as a sort of surrogate mother for me for almost three decades.

I will never forget the first time I ever laid eyes on her... nor shall I forget standing by her hospital bed two nights ago, and remaining with her until she finally closed her own eyes forever. I started to write about the experience earlier this afternoon, and meant to carry on long enough to explain what it was like to have Ma in my corner for the last three decades-- but then I realized that I had written fifteen pages of text and hadn't even gotten past the day I actually met her. To be in possession of the sort of recall I tend to command is often a real bitch... you just never do seem to forget nothin', and that includes pain. Especially pain... and so right now I'm still pretty raw about it.

And so now I shall try to be more brief, even though she was such a memorable character that I could literally write a book about nothing but her.


So: her name was Martha J. Nibler-- though she basically ordered me to refer to her as Ma many years ago, when she first realized that her daughter and I were definitely an item. But as it happened, Ma and I were tight before I ever met Ma's knockoff of a daughter-- the the woman whom I tend to refer to on the boards as T-Bird. Like Ma herself, she has played a great many roles in my life over the years-- even as I was her all-purpose... well, whatever I was, we've been together a long time, even when one subtracts the occasional years-long periods during which we've been apart. But we fell in love with one another at first sight back in 1982, and have shared many wonderful and very terrible times together. We were something of a Bonnie-and-Clyde team, done up in biker style, and we raised plenty of hell together in the old days...

But let's go back to Ma. I will begin by saying that Ma was the daughter of a hardscrabble Alabama sharecropper, who stubbornly pursued her education and eventually became the second sworn female police officer in the history of the State of Florida. She eventually rose to the position of detective, and it was at that point in her career that she came to deploy me-- I was a deputy sheriff at the time I made her acquaintance-- to serve the arrest warrants she developed in the course of her investigative activities. I was extremely proud to be the person she chose to serve those warrants, and we came to be pretty tight back then. But even at that, our professional relationship and mutual respect was as nothing when compared to the care and guidance she rendered unto me in the years after I left law enforcement and ended up being little more than a raunchy-ass Florida biker, and her daughter's extremely troublesome on-again/off-again boyfriend. My only saving grace in the hellbound years was that I was at least slick enough to keep my job. But since I worked very long hours only on weekends, I was left with plenty of spare time in which to pursue all kinds of things that a man should perhaps not play with. I sometimes like to tell my friends that it took me 48 years just to turn 31...

Ma passed two nights ago, with me in attendance along with the rest of her family. As it happened, I had spent every day and night for nearly ten in a row-- taking only one night off from my vigil out of sheer, physical exhaustion-- lingering by her bedside in the ICU. The ambulance boys carted Ma off after she had finally been taken down as the result of a pulmonary condition that plagued her for years, and which was compounded by a heart problem that developed somewhere along the way. She was seventy-seven years old, and I try to console myself with the thought that she lived a long and mainly happy kind of life. She would have wanted me to celebrate her life instead of collapsing into depression yet again.

I beat that shit down years ago, though. If Ma is watching right now, I'm sure she is pleased to see that I didn't crumple, even if I was sorely tempted to do so.

We knew it was coming... the only question was when. Her doctors couldn't say if she'd pass within a week, or a month, or a year-- but capped her at three years max. He rendered this prognosis about one month before she suffered the acute attack that finally landed her in the ICU. I will pause here to feel pleased that I was at least smart enough to have spent that last month that she was home cooking an endless array of my specialty dishes for her to enjoy. I was at her house about three times a week, and was incredibly pleased that she seemed to really enjoy all the good food I whipped up for her.

She never got her last gumbo, though. I cooked a nice chicken-and-sausage gumbo the night before she went to the hospital, but froze it when I learned that she would not be at home and on hand to eat any of it for a little while. I expected to feed it to her when she came home, and spent my time away from her helping T-Bird to prepare the house for her return-- but Ma never came home. And so tonight I pulled it out and ate some of it myself.

Strangely, I can't even taste it at all. It's as if it has no flavor whatsoever.

When I first showed up at the hospital, a couple of the really catty female members of Ma's extended family hissed with indignation at the sight of me, and a few snide comments were made. I didn't expect anybody else to be quite ready or at all happy to see that I had somehow swooped back into the picture-- let alone to have somehow infiltrated the exclusive confines of the ICU through what at first appeared to be some form of sorcery to them. They were also visibly dismayed to realize that I had also somehow reignited my insane, decades-long relationship with Ma's daughter-- a thing that smacks strongly of destiny in our particular case. Fact is, we simply never have been quite able to exorcise one another out of our respective personal lives...

Then too, a certain male member of Ma's blood family actually balked about my access to her room in the ICU while I wasn't around to hard-eye him. No problem, though, as after he flapped his mouth to her, Ma retorted that if he didn't like it he could go piss up a rope and stay home his own damned self! He was thus chastised, and managed to turn his mind around about me as a result of her rebuke. But at this point the brothers seem to be openly wondering if I mean to stick around this time, or if I will leave their sister in a shambles once again. Everybody is sick of the little drama we've played out over the years, but I doubt that anybody is as sick of it as me. I just want to stay with her from now on, is what my deal is. I've had enough of drugs, and booze, and bars, and whores, and cops, and other jackass bikers of the same stripe as that which I once painted myself with. I mean, I still ride my Harley and I haven't cut my hair in a couple of years... but somehow, I have changed... and thank God for that!

Actually, I do mean to stick around this time. I'm too old to run any more and never could escape her anyway. I told that to Ma, who was quite pleased as she said, "Well, you two knuckleheads never were happy when you were apart from one another, that's for sure."

Ma told everybody else that I was like a son to her, and that my presence tended to cheer her up. She was loyal, loving, and kindly towards me all along. She fussed over me and doted upon me for many, many years... though I must admit that of all the people who were very confused by her affection for me, nobody has ever been so nonplussed about our relationship as was I, myself. To this day I do not see whatever it was that made her love me so much-- and frankly, I'm not sure if I really want to know. Sometimes it is better for a man to simply take things at face value.

Ma knew just how far gone I eventually came to be... and yet, she never abandoned me, even though she was well aware of the worst things there were to know about me by first-hand experience. It was Ma who sometimes picked me up off the floor of my shack after I passed out dead drunk, and it was Ma who rocked it out with me when I went cold turkey from meth. Ma has seen me throwing drunken temper tantrums, tweaking and fizzling with methamphetamine psychosis, and has talked me out of plenty of badly depressed intervals that I suffered from, usually while crashing off speed, which was always my favorite drug.

Ma once even talked the cops out of arresting me-- which is a long and sordid kind of story that I shall not relate here-- and then just kind of laughed it off afterwards. When one of her former professional colleagues told her that word was that I was Real Bad News, Ma's reply was that she never did care to read the paper much anyway. And early on, when one of her natural sons decided to express his disliking for me, Ma replied, "Oh, he's terrible all right-- worst case I ever did see. But he's also very effective at keeping strangers off the property, does chores and repairs things around here, and he is unfailingly polite and respectful towards me in his speech and mannerisms. He always does whatever I tell him to do, no matter how wasted he might be when I tell him... which is more than I can say for you!"

Come to think of: Ma's lady friends weren't too happy that she allowed me to take up residence in a utility shed that stood on her property, and she once actually dismissed such a person from her personal circle for having bad-mouthed me. Only a woman who truly loved me could ever have put up with me as I was back in those days. But Ma never, ever gave up on me and actually lived long enough to see me straighten out enough that while cops still tend to eyeball me pretty hard at times, they don't just automatically grab me for a Terry Stop any more. My reformation, she said, brought a lot of joy to her heart... and the fact that I finally surrendered to what is surely my fate and have rejoined T-Bird as her beau was also a source of considerable pleasure to her.

She said she felt good for knowing I'd be there to take care of her daughter from now on, and that I had repented of all my former, highly inadvisable ways. She said that she had forgotten just how bright a smile I might feature, when I'm in the mood to smile about something... but right here and now I tell you: every smile I flashed last week was as fake as anything that was ever painted onto the face of a department store mannequin. I smiled and smiled and smiled just to keep her chipper, but now my face is tired. I can't smile right now, and I don't even want to. Sorry, Ma.

Still, I invite y'all to smile for me as I remember how it was that one fine day Ma decided to roust me out of my shack so as to use me as a sort of laborer. Ma was an inveterate, highly skilled gardener, and she had raised a bunch of plants known as "Bird of Paradise" flowers to enter into the county fair. As such, she needed me to lug them around in their heavy plant pots, and having noticed that I had just rolled in from whatever wasteland I occupied the night before, figured I had shown back up just in time to be of use to her. She could see that the crash was not upon me-- yet-- and figured to make the most of my still-energized, but very bleary self. She had a tendency to stick close by me when I was in a really bad way, and I was totally fvcked up that particular morning. I think that really, she would rather have just sat by my bed and sponged my forehead as she had done in the past... but then, she meant to enter her Birds of Paradise into the fair-- and by jingo, in the end she took the blue ribbon with them, and another one for one of her orchid plants.

Thus, I showed up on the fairgrounds at her side, plant pots in hand, while still dressed in full biker drag. I had boots up to my knees, hair down to my elbows, and was gazing upon the world through my usual bloodshot eyeballs. I was also sporting a tacky-ass tee shirt beneath my leather vest that read: Hold My Beer While I Kiss Your Girlfriend, which Ma found to be hysterically funny. Ma was absolutely delighted by the instant shell shock exhibited by her society-lady busybody friends in their sunbonnets, who all seemed totally astonished to see that Ma had a helper who looked like half-baked hell. Later, she told me that somebody asked her who the werewolf was, and she replied that I was her assistant and not to fuss about me because I was practically housebroken. He shook his head at that and said, "Ain't nobody ever seen such a proper lady as yourself with such an 'assistant' as him before-- I sure do hope you know what you're doing, ma'am!"

To hear her friend Gloria, who was also there, tell the tale, Ma looked down her nose and over her glasses at the man, and those Alabama-blue eyes of hers drilled into him like icy buckshot. She said, "And for my part, I hope that you will keep all of your other remarks to yourself, sir, as you simply don't know what you are talking about. Regardless of what you may think about him, that boy is my son, and I think I will slap your tongue right out of your head in front of everybody if you do not mind your manners towards him."

I didn't hear those words as they were spoken by Ma, as I was going back and forth from her mini-van to the display area as I carried her flowerpots to the appropriate place in the agricultural building. But Lord, I can just hear her saying something like that, in that honey-hush, heavy-duty Southern accent she spoke in... a thing about her that has always charmed me to the bone.

God, how I loved her! You know, whenever she addressed me by my name it always came out as Raw-burt...

One time, while totally broken down and suffering from a shattered soul, I asked Ma why the hell she let me stick around. She smiled and said that I was her favorite misfit toy. At another point in time, she took to calling me Chupie, which was short for "chupacabra", which is a foul, goat-eating kind of monster that seems to live in Mexico. But most of the time she simply called me Raw-burt...

I am happy that I spent her final week at her side. Many things passed between us as as she slipped away, but most especially she gave me a truckload of advice concerning me my winsome T-Bird, who is a whole 'nother story in her own right. But I am happy to at least report that Ma was especially gratified at my return to her daughter's side, and that she actually approved enough to coax things along in a direction that would lead to us being together again.

But now Ma is gone from my sight, and one of my final duties will be to be one of six men who will carry her to her tomb next Saturday. Ma ordered me not to grieve over her beyond a certain point, and so it was that I never did shed a tear until the last five minutes of her life. Earlier that day, she told me and T-Bird-that she was sick and tired of being sick and tired, and that she had ordered the hospital staff to remove her from life support-- to let her go over the crossroads in peace. She had had enough.

She lasted exactly five minutes after they removed the breathing apparatus, and I was there with her two natural sons and T-Bird when she finally put her second foot over the crossroads. Her passing was as peaceful and gentle as could be. This was one very, very strong lady... my dad went out in the same graceful manner as this, and I was quite proud of her for going face-to-face with Ol' Flatfoot with such fearless panache as she did.

So I looked out my back door today, to gaze upon the sight of my red bud tree, which is now in full bloom. The first time I was ever sane enough to even notice that there were such trees as this was when I shot this photo of the species while visiting New Orleans, guess it was about 2004:


and when I returned to my crib, I asked Ma-- whom I was sure would know-- exactly what sort of trees I had taken a photo of and was informed that those were red bud trees...

Later, when I moved into this house of mine, Ma came over to inspect the place and exulted in the fact that I now had my own red bud tree in the back yard. I had no idea that this was the case, as the tree wasn't in bloom at the time and I could not then recognize them unless they were flowering. But here is a photo of my red bud tree, which exploded into bloom about a week ago-- right about the same time that Ma was carted off to the ICU:


Ma's own favorite flowering plant is the Magnolia-- a plant that she taught me to recognize by sight and scent, and which I was never able to behold since without thinking of her. Sometime very soon, I will go to the garden place and buy myself a white magnolia-- and I will plant it near the crepe myrtle I have in memory of my father, and the yellow roses I keep on behalf of my birth-mother.

But today I have the Red Bud Blues, and I am feeling very old. I'm in my middle fifties, and damned if I don't feel every minute of it in my bones. The older a person gets, the more dead folks he knows-- and I already knew plenty of 'em before it was Ma's turn to sail off. But while death brought her a release from pain, I still very selfishly mourn my loss of her. Guess that I finally had to disobey her somehow, and this is it: I'm pretty sad right now.


One of the last things she ever said to me, right before they took her off life support, was this:

"Don't cry for me, Raw-burt-- it is not becoming of you, and not the sort of thing that I would wish to see. You were always my pet werewolf, and while wolves sometimes howl, they never do cry. You've got to be a rock for T-Bird, y'hear? She will be leaning on you very heavily in the weeks to come."

I rubbed my eyes and said, "I'm real sorry, Ma... guess I'm just a bit tired is all." I could hear the oxygen they were forcing into her lungs as it bubbled through a water filter hanging on the wall near us, and asked her if she heard somebody doing a bong nearby.

She smiled then, and said:

"Know this in your heart son: the price of love is the pain you feel when it's gone. But you know I'm not really going to be far from you anyway, don't you?

About two minutes before she breathed her last breath, I leaned in close to her to say, "Hey Ma, guess what? I love you!"

But by that point she could no longer talk. Still, she smiled faintly and mouthed her last words to me which were:

I love you too. Goodbye, Raw-burt...

It was crazy-hard to keep it together right then, but though a supreme effort I at least kept my eyes from doing more than just misting up heavily. Right when I thought I had the trick mastered, though, I found that my nose had begun to run uncontrollably! I said something to Ma about my tears leaking out of my nose instead of my eyes, but I don't think it registered. She was almost gone by then.

And sure enough, my nose is running like a faucet right now. Ah, but I reckon that somewhere inside me, I will always be weeping about this. How will I ever replace such a one as she?

The answer is: I won't... and I don't think I could accept a substitute to begin with-- even if I thought I could find one.

So she was right, as usual: one way to gauge the depth of love is to measure the grief of losing one you love. Tonight I realize that I loved her very, very much.

So be it. I guess I will be posting her obituary, once it finally appears in the newspaper.


--R :sadwave:


Senior Member
Apr 21, 2011
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My deepest condolences Robert on your loss :( :sadwave:.

Keep your head high, you'll pull through. It's what she'd have wanted, anyway :).

Edit: Expect a call from me tomorrow night!


V.I.P. Member
Feb 27, 2009
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My sincere condolences Rob. She sounds like an amazing woman.

I too love Redbud trees, it is in fact Oklahoma's state tree. Beautiful when in full bloom.

Black Ice

Senior Member
Jul 3, 2011
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I'm truly sorry for your loss.

The people that can see the good in a lost soul and embrace it are few and far between.
May she rest in peace.


Senior Member
Apr 23, 2010
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Wow Robert, I'm truly sorry for your loss.
Your remembrance is extremely touching.


Senior Member
Jun 2, 2011
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Remember she will continue to live on in your heart and your memory, all my best to you.


Senior Member
Nov 28, 2010
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A beautiful memorial for a beautiful woman, Rob. You know you can call whenever you want, brotha.


Sep 10, 2010
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Man that's just awful. The ones we think the most of seem to leave us too soon. I hope your heart heals up fast and her memory lives with you.


Jul 19, 2011
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My heart hurts for you Brother.

Hell of a Eulogy...had my emotions on a rollercoaster.

Sincere condolences for you, the family and for T-Bird.
And I guess I can offer out some congrats, as well on your new/old relationship.

Much respect Brother



Senior Member
Jun 1, 2008
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It's hard when we reach the place in life where we start to lose the ones who mean the most to us.

My condolences on your loss Roberteaux.


ignoramus maximus emeritus
Gold Supporting Member
Dec 31, 2010
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My deepest sympathy, Robert. I'm very sorry for your loss. A very touching tribute, sir...


Senior Member
Mar 17, 2009
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You are lucky to have made great memories with her. She was lucky to have you as a friend. Hold your head high. You were there for her and did all you could. I'm sorry.

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