Commentary: A long walk in memory of mom

The Miami HeraldApril 13, 2010 

"I'm walkin', yes indeed.'' — Fats Domino

On April 15, it will be 22 years since she died.

I remember getting home from photocopying some paper I needed to complete my taxes, only to find my wife facing me with eyes so stricken and bereft that I didn't need to hear the words. I knew.

We rushed out to my sister's house, went into the room and there it was: the shriveled husk that until that day had contained my mom. I left the room at a trot, hand to mouth, the world blurred by tears.

My sisters, my brother and I spent the next hours crying, talking, reminiscing. Then, because it was still April 15 and the federal government has little sense of humor about such things, I went and mailed my taxes. It felt surreal, doing this mundane civic chore on the day breast cancer took my mother. I remember being vaguely surprised that taxes were still due, that the world had not stopped, that here was life, going on regardless.

Now here we are, 22 years later and your humble correspondent has just signed up to walk 60 miles over the course of three days this October as part of the Susan G. Komen 3-Day For The Cure. Komen, founded in 1982, describes itself as "the world's largest grassroots network of breast cancer survivors and activists" and also the planet's largest nonprofit donor to the fight against breast cancer, having raised $1.5 billion for that cause. Komen says it's had a hand in every major advance in breast cancer treatment since the early 1980s.

All that notwithstanding, your humble correspondent had to sneak up on himself to make himself participate, had to commit before he could talk himself out of it. I am not an athletic fellow. Where physical labor is concerned, some might even say I was a lazy fellow. And 60 miles is, well... 60 miles.

But after years of making excuses, I decided I could no longer spurn the opportunity to help raise money against this killer. So here I am, hitting up co-workers, siblings, friends and, yes, readers. (If you donate, please, please, please don't send your money to me. Go to www.the3day.org, click "Donate To A Participant" and input my name.)

The Komen people advise participants to write a letter to explain to potential donors why they are walking. I guess this is mine.

I am walking because I have a wife, two daughters, two sisters and dozens of women friends and, while breast cancer is not unknown among men (Peter Criss of Kiss and Richard Roundtree of Shaft fame are survivors), it absolutely ravages women, for whom it is the second most common cancer behind skin cancer. Two hundred thousand women will be diagnosed this year. Forty thousand will die.

So I am walking because I hate breast cancer.

I am walking because when kismet hits you hard, it is life-affirming to hit back.

And I am walking because April 15, 1988, has never gone away.

She was a neat lady, my mother. Agnes Pitts grew up in Depression-era Mississippi and probably had no more than seven years of formal education, but boy, was she smart, read everything she could get her hands on, taught us that education was the holy grail, carried herself with a regality, a native dignity, circumstance could not besmirch.

She loved Jesus Christ, Nat Cole, fine clothing, seafood and her bookish, bespectacled firstborn son who was forever getting his glasses broken or his money stolen by bigger, tougher boys. She loved him anyway -- you never saw a woman more proud of any child -- patiently nursing his skinned knees and bruised pride, stubbornly defending his childish dreams from a world filled with wolves.

She left here 22 years ago. Never saw her grandkids grow up, never met her great grands, never saw that bookish boy fulfill those dreams. So if you ask me why I'm walking, well, I guess the answer is simple.

I miss my mom.

ABOUT THE WRITER

Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla. 33132. Readers may write to him via e-mail at lpitts@miamiherald.com. He chats with readers every Wednesday from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. EDT at Ask Leonard.

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