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DONALD WATTS' MOTHER



The cars rolled past every now and then. I could see their headlights zoom past as I lay on the old, dirty mattress in the corner of the small living room. I watched the vehicles through the cracks between the old boards making up the walls of the shack where my friend Donald Watts and his elderly mother lived. Once again, at about 11 or 12 years old, I ran away from the orphanage as I had done many times before. And once again, I had no place in the world to go.

I do not even remember where I met Donald. I suppose it was somewhere on a back street, in the park or in some back alley. I was probably searching for food in a dumpster or garbage can out behind one of the restaurants over on Riverside Avenue in Jacksonville.

Just a few minutes ago, I was in the kitchen making a dinner salad for my wife and me, when all of a sudden and for no reason at all, this thought popped into my head. A picture of Donald Watt's crippled, gray haired old mother, as she walked out of that run down old shack she called a house. A small three-room dump, with white peeling paint that dropped off in large pieces each time the front door slammed. A dirty looking structure, which had light brown pieces of cardboard boxes stuck here and there in the window frames. The glass in the windows had been missing for years, because the property owner would not fix them. It had an old gray roof, which leaked constantly because half the shingles were missing and had blown away over the years.

I opened my young eyes every single morning, six days a week, when I heard her get up and get ready for work at the Salvation Army. A woman so crippled that she was barely able to walk and had to hobble at a 45-degree angle. She must have been 70 years old or so. I could not believe how anyone her age could possibly be in that much pain and walk like that day after day, without hurting herself. She could barely get from the living room to the bathroom every night without falling down, much less make it to the bus stop a block or two away every day. However, she always got up, dressed and headed out the door at exactly the same time every single morning. This was just to do the job necessary to take care of herself and the two lazy kids living in her home - one of those kids being me. That is the way she had always been since the day I first laid eyes on her. She was just a gray haired old woman who was just Donald's Watts' Mother, so I never gave it a second thought.

I never realized it before today, but that old woman never turned me away or ever pushed me back out into the street, not one time. It had never entered my mind how much that wonderful woman did for me as a young boy. The little bit of food that they had to eat and believe me, it was very little, was shared with me equally and without ever making me feel as though I was imposing or unwanted in their home. How I miss that old shack today and that big old plate of burnt mashed potatoes with one piece of white bread. Yes, I said burnt mashed potatoes. There were no pots, so the daily meal of potatoes had to be fried on the old metal stove top and then mashed down, until they were done.

I drove to Jacksonville, Florida several years ago. I went to see if the house was still there. When I arrived at the address, all I saw was a large Sherwin-Williams Paint Store.

I have searched for years trying to find Donald Watts. I want him to know that I owe his wonderful mother more than a debt of gratitude.



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