“I’m bringing him back to you. This is your baby, not mine. Don’t you put this on me!”
The door does not open.
Sarah places her ear against the wooden surface and strains to hear Mattie’s footsteps inside., hear the creaks her barely one hundred pounds would make. But the baby’s cries do not allow for that.
Sarah kicks at the door and beats it with her fist, beats it hard. “I mean it, Mattie. I ain’t no Mama. You his Mama. Bet he’s got your dimples. Now come get him. Come get him now!”
Mama Bone is a beautiful title for the story about a woman named Sara Creamer who is left to care for the child, a product of an affair between her husband and her dear friend, Sister Mattie. She doesn’t have ‘one good mama bone’ according to her own mother, and yet she has no choice but to come and answer the cries of the abandoned baby. In poverty, she must scramble to raise Emerson Bridge when her husband dies in shame, unable to work, a drunk. With nothing to feed her son, desperation clings. There is shame in her heart that she doesn’t feel good enough as a mother, she isn’t his real Mama. She let the loving, come from Harold Emerson is HIS child, Sara doesn’t feel worthy, she can’t find the natural mothering bone. Her attempt to make a dress with fine material in the hopes of selling it to Luther’s wife is a gamble, but she is desperate to put food in her boy’s belly. Watching her sell is cringe worthy, as much as seeing her steal some food. That is what a real mother does! Sara, a heathen woman who doesn’t go to church, daring to make dresses for Mrs. Dobbins, and now wanting a steer? The nerve!
The only way to feed her son, and pay off debts is to win a competition (Fat Cattle Show and Sale) by purchasing a baby steer from Luther Dobbins. He will come to be their nemesis, as he hungers to keep the champions in his own family with his son LC in the competition. Surely this poor woman isn’t a threat, right? Certainly Sara has no clue what she is doing, nor how to feed the steer but Mama Red is going to come crashing into their lives and back into her baby. Through this animal love, the inborn hunger for the cow to protect and shower her baby with love, Sara will learn how motherly love is measured. The reader also understands through Luther, what love is not and how hunger for always winning can diminish a child. Ike Thrasher is a vital character too that comes into Sara and Emerson’s life, dragging his own terrible past behind him. He wants to help, to be worthy.. it’s interesting how so many characters are trying to reach for worthiness in the eyes of their family, how parents can blindly make their children feel they will never measure up, sometimes with horrific consequences.
While this is about a rural town, the characters are not living simple lives. The novel begins with blood and may well end with it. Everything that happens in between leads to heartbreaking misery and beauty, a strange combination. We are often in our own way, and destroy that which we love. Sara is more than forgiving of others, a shame it takes so long to forgive herself for not being Emerson’s ‘biological’ mother, for not realizing she loves him as much as any mother could love a child they birthed. She doesn’t blame the child for his origins, and she steps up in spite of feeling she isn’t mother material, shamed he may feel unwanted after-all, his mother rejected him and Sara’s own words after his birth were, “I don’t want him.” But as Emerson comes of age, he is such a wonderfully sweet endearing boy that who couldn’t love him like a son? Sara is such a beautiful soul, the wounds to her pride, church going or not, she makes right from the start in mothering Emerson. Then there is LC, whom is pressed to hate Emerson, but just doesn’t- a child can move beyond their parent’s hateful ways. LC and Emerson should be the best of friends, the boy at heart is more a man than his father ever will be. “His father had called them heathens for being unchurched, but LC knew better. He’d felt their hearts. And in his few short years of life, he already knew that’s where all truth lies.” So let not the reader ignore the strength in the awful Luther’s son, LC.
Not all love stories are romantic, some are the love between a mother and her child. One Good Mama Bone moved me as a mother, because there are moments in any mother’s life (biological or not) that we just don’t feel we’re are as good as we can be, that we are hurting our children for being a flawed creature. But that is the very thing that makes us human, we are imperfect. The terrible cruelness of Sara’s own mother in itself is an example, an example of what is lacking, of who not to be. There is always something to learn from any mother. This is quiet southern fiction at it’s best, it requires the characters to grow, but will all of them learn before it’s too late? Some, but not all.
Publication Date: February 14, 2017
Story River Books/ The University Press of South Carolina
Do read the foreword by the author Mary Alice Monroe as well as the acknowledgements, it’s always interesting to discover how a story is born.