Saving Face

April 3, 2014 | By | Comments (24)
Illustration by Jack Unruh

Illustration by Jack Unruh

I’ve been peeling labels off my mother for years. First through the words inside the books. And now from their covers.

I will always remember the first time it happened. I was signing books in a deserted hotel ballroom, deserted except for me, a few nice people handing me volumes, and two thousand pictures of my mother’s face, the elegant cover of a 300-page story I had written about her and my people. The most important thing I will ever write, and closest to my heart.

It was a beautiful book—not the inside, I mean, but the outside. The cover, which had the feel of old parchment, showed a photograph of my young mother, taken about the time I was born in ’59. Her face was serene, peaceful, and lovely. I believe my mother was, and is, the most beautiful woman on this planet. I always will. But the photograph on the cover of this book had an almost otherworldly quality about it. I have seen people stop what they were doing and walk all the way across a bookstore to pick it up and look at it, closer. (That is what authors do for fun. They hang out in bookstores and stalk people through the aisles, trying to turn them, by mind control, to the memoir aisle.)

Anyway, that day in the ballroom, I had already worn out two fine-point Sharpies and was a few hundred books into the stack when I noticed, on every single beautiful cover, my mother had been defaced.

They put stickers on books when they are signed, that say, in case anyone is confused, SIGNED BY AUTHOR. I do not know who else would have signed it, although, once or twice, when someone mistook me for another writer, I signed one of their books for meanness. I have also taken several sweet compliments intended for Rick Bass.

It was the placement that was unfortunate. On some books, they had covered up her left eye, making her look, vaguely, like a pirate. On others, it was on the right eye, which made her look no less the buccaneer. Some, and this was unfortunate, were plastered over her mouth, making her resemble the “Speak No Evil” monkey in that trilogy. The ones on her cheek made her look like an accident victim. The ones on her forehead made her look like Zelda Fitzgerald (use your imagination) or, if they happened to be round in shape, a coal miner. They have a lamp strapped to their… never mind.

I started to peel them off, then looked at the boxes and boxes of books and just sighed.

It got worse over time. I would walk into a store and see, stuck to my mother’s lovely face, 20 PERCENT OFF. The most unpleasant were the stickers that said nothing, just blue or red or yellow dots, which I’m sure meant something in secret bookstore code but made my mama look like she had measles, or a bad case of pinkeye. I cannot always peel them all off. But most of the time, I try.

My mother told me, once, that the cover sometimes makes her a little sad because, “I don’t look like that no more.” I think she does. But at least she does not walk around the house with REMAINDERED stamped across her head.

Happy birthday, Mama. I love you.

COMMENTS

  1. Diane Reeves

    I live in Central Nebraska. My daughter moved to the South after graduation from college. She met and married a wonderful Southern gentleman. I loved visiting the South when I spent time with them. I don’t remember when I first fell in love with your books. But I have read all of them. You have a gift. for which I am grateful. Thanks to you and your beautiful accounts of living in the South, The accounts of growing up in a “less than perfect family” have helped to heal my soul. You see, I had a mother and father much like your mother and father. Your writing brings the beauty of life to my middle-age soul. You are the reason I pay my subscription to Southern Living every year. I love the recipes, the beautiful homes, but your contributions to the magazine are what makes me turn to the last page to read as soon as my magazine arrives every month. Thank you Rick Bragg!!!

    March 11, 2016 at 3:17 pm
  2. Sue

    I’m so glad to hear your mother is still living. Happy birthday to her. Just read your book about her a couple weeks ago and loved it. What a courageous woman she is.

    March 11, 2016 at 11:16 am
  3. David Simmons

    Beautiful story, beautiful lady inside and out Thanks for sharing her with us. Honored to have met her.

    March 11, 2016 at 9:50 am
  4. Donna Whistenant

    I have so many stories and facts I would love to share with you about our family I would love to talk with you. Donna Whistenant

    March 11, 2016 at 8:52 am
  5. Brenda

    My daughter and I met your sweet Mother, your aunt Juanita and aunt Jo at a yard sale. We talked for a very long time. It was one of the most enjoyable afternoons I have ever spent. At the time my grandson (a baby at the time) was undergoing treatment for cancer in both eyes. Your aunt Juanita made him a quilt and sent it to him. Your Mom is very beautiful inside and out! Your books could not be more accurate in describing your wonderful family. Your Mother is the example of what ever Mother should be.

    March 11, 2016 at 8:26 am
  6. angela

    Love your stories in southern living magazine. They remind me of home.

    March 11, 2016 at 7:37 am
  7. Nancy Cisick

    I love your mother. Through you, I feel like I know her. You have brought me hours of pure joy. Keep peeling stickers and I will too.

    March 10, 2016 at 10:33 pm
  8. CH Jones

    And BTW — Give your Mama a “Very Happy Birthday” from me!

    March 10, 2016 at 8:01 pm
  9. CH Jones

    Rick — Just so you know. I work in a used bookshop, and every time I see that book come in my shop, I have ALWAYS peeled the labels off the cover — just b/c it was among the most beautiful stories I ever read and I knew you would not want a label slapped across your Mama’s face. Glad to hear that you approve of my extra effort.

    March 10, 2016 at 7:59 pm
  10. Joyce

    I do not know how it happened but you came to my Face Book today and I gladly clicked the Like button. Now I will now have a new eagerness to open my FB each day and look forward to reading whatever you have to say. Loved your books and read all I can find that you have authored…happy birthday to your dear mother!

    March 10, 2016 at 7:53 pm
  11. Amy Preston

    As always, stated in such a loving and lovely way. I think the picture of your mother is beautiful and promise if I ever see a sticker rudely placed across her face, I will remove it! (I will do the same for your grandfather and your father).

    March 10, 2016 at 7:07 pm
  12. Bettina Cardella

    Yes, we Alabamians do not like people who mess with our Mamas; but,we are the ones to insult you and your Mama at the same time. e.g.”Rick, I know your Mama taught you better than that. Bless her heart.” Happy Birthday to your Mama and may she celebrate many, many more. I lost mine when I was 21 and still miss her everyday.

    March 10, 2016 at 6:49 pm
  13. Peckerwood Pete

    What I hate about the stickers is the poor choice of adhesive used on the sticker. It’s really bad and sad if the adhesive rips off cover itself when an attempt is made to remove the sticker. If they would just consult 3M, the adhesive experts. As any serious Chemical Engineer, I greately admire 3M for their expertise.

    March 10, 2016 at 6:28 pm
  14. carrie

    happy birthday

    to your momma

    March 10, 2016 at 6:25 pm
  15. Alice Bengel

    At one of your signings in Atlanta, you asked how I wanted you to sign my book. I told you to sign it “To my new best friend”, and you laughed. But that’s how you signed it. Greetings from West Virginia. You should come for a visit.

    March 10, 2016 at 6:20 pm
  16. Kenneth Laird

    Rick I was so inspired after reading I sent my book to the New York Times in Atlanta and you sent it back with a great note written on the inside cover. “From one person who loves the South to another” – Sincerely Rick Bragg

    March 10, 2016 at 6:10 pm
  17. leftygomez1

    I’d offer that everyone should read this book without regard to their geographical circumstance.

    March 10, 2016 at 6:08 pm
  18. Darla

    I absolutely Loved your poignant tribute to your Mom. I was a single mom of two little boys when I read AOBTS and every day that I went to work as a nurse’s aide, I thought of how much easier I had it because of women like her who had lived that life before I was ever thought of. I thought of her, and with every fiber of my being, wanted to be as selfless, and as good of a Mom as she is. I read Pat Conroy’s comment about the book, that was printed on the jacket, and if I had had the money, I too, would have sent her roses out of gratitude for showing other single moms out there, the RIGHT way to do it.

    March 10, 2016 at 5:54 pm
  19. Mary Craig

    This is a one of a kind Mother!!! She raised a one of a kind son!!! Thanks for the memories, Rick Bragg!!!

    March 10, 2016 at 5:44 pm
  20. Marcia Adkins

    Southern Living is as relevant to me as it once was. I don’t cook a great deal, and when I do, I seldom try new recipes. I like to see the lovely homes in the magazine, but I know my house will never get a drastic makeover. I like reading about new restaurants, and I may try out a few local places, but I could find them other ways. But I will remain a loyal subscriber because of Rick Bragg’s wonderful pieces . They are worth the subscription price, even if I never change my Thanksgiving menu or bake a Key Lime pound cake.

    March 10, 2016 at 5:12 pm
  21. Debra Byrd

    You are a wonderful tribute to your Mother. She raised you. She is part of you and is probably your greatest fan and cheerleader. I say, “Good job, Mrs. Bragg.”

    March 10, 2016 at 4:58 pm
  22. Sharon

    Ricky,
    Those stickers bother me too. I can only imagine it is so much worse for you, knowing the love you have for your mama!
    Miss you, dear, old “underground” friend!!
    Sharon

    March 10, 2016 at 4:53 pm
  23. Carolyn Langston

    I love your mama too. All Over But the Shoutin’ was my introduction to your writing, Rick Bragg, and I have loved you ever since. You speak to my heart and understand my people.

    March 10, 2016 at 4:53 pm
  24. Belinda

    I loved this book!!! What an awesome tribute to your Mom. She has to be an exceptional woman. I don’t think they make them like her anymore. Excellent book that every southerner should read.

    June 14, 2015 at 11:30 pm

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