Opinion: The Only Hell My Mama Ever Raised

SDN Editor Ryan Phillips (right) and his mother Sherri Howard in 2012 when Phillips graduated from Ole Miss

“She tried to turn me on to Jesus, but I turned on to the Devil’s ways. And I turned out to be the only hell my mama ever raised.” - Johnny Paycheck

Country music outlaw Johnny Paycheck said he couldn’t sell his mama short on loving him, and I can easily say the same for mine.

While I’ve never dodged the IRS or shot a guy, I can’t say I’ve ever been a model for good behavior. But through it all, good and bad, my mama has always been there to help me up when I fall.

Sherri is a saint, mind you. But for all of my vices and eccentricities, I didn’t inherit a-one from her. Because of that, she has been my Rock of Gibraltar - unmovable, constant and the kind of level-headed I wish I could be, but know I never will.

I lack the inherent goodness she possesses. She has always been a stickler for the rules and never did a thing to publicly embarrass our family.

But what’s amazing is how much she has had to put up with from me, while still maintaining her sanity.

A fun memory could go back to second grade or so, when I was suspended from the school bus on a Friday for shooting spit balls. It was an innocent-enough offense, sure, but came with repercussions nonetheless. I couldn’t bear to tell my parents over the weekend, with the prospect of being grounded into oblivion weighing heavy on my young heart.

I laugh more and more with each passing year when I remember the look on my mama’s face when that bus cruised by our driveway on Monday morning. To say she was angry is an understatement, but as always, she was quick to forgive … although she never forgot.

Then there’s the time I tried to forge a note to check out of school during my junior year. I went to the same small rural high school my parents attended, so the network of people in the community was a tight one.

In spite of that, every now and again we could get away with more trouble than we should have been allowed to.

This day in particular, a buddy and I decided to try and pull a fast one and ditch out of school by faking our parent’s signatures. We weren’t bad kids, just uninterested in academia. But leave it to the cunning folks in the school’s front office to spot the forgery and notify my mother. I’ll never forget laughing with my friend as we busted into the office, only to be met with the scowling countenance of my mother as she sat behind the desk.

I could have died right there.

Now, I wouldn’t consider myself mean-spirited, but I’ve always had a bit of an unshakable outlaw streak that my parents were forced to reckon with.

I’m sure I’ve let my mama down more times than either of us could count, but she has never wavered in her love and support of me and my younger brother.

For every bit of trouble we can dish out, our mama can be counted on to answer with twice as much love.

In an increasingly self-centered world, I consider myself lucky to have a mother who never lost interest in at least trying to raise me right.

As one of my heroes, Merle Haggard, sang, “Mama tried to raise me better, but her pleading I denied. That leaves only me to blame, ‘cause mama tried.”

Even though I wasn’t a world-class athlete, she never missed a ballgame. Even though I struggled for the first year trying to learn guitar, she never complained. And even though I’ve found myself in trouble again and again, she never lost faith, even for a second.

It would be a disservice if I didn’t also mention my two grandmothers - Mawmaw Pat and Grandmother Dot, who I am still fortunate to have in my life.

Both of these tough ladies have been driving forces in my life and have always looked past my faults and shortcomings. I may try to be rough around the edges, but these two women have seen right through the rowdy facade since the beginning.

All of the women who helped raise me deserve more than I will ever be able to give them, and this column is only a collection of words and anecdotes.

I could opine for days, digging up memories of how these women helped shaped my life, but on Mother’s Day, the best words I can come up with are: I love you.

Ryan Phillips is the executive editor of the Starkville Daily News and Daily Times Leader. The views expressed in this column are his and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of either newspaper or their staffs.