by Marshall Chapman

Marshall Chapman by Anthony Scarlati
Last week I received a photo in the mail of my mother riding on the back of a Harley motorcycle. The photo was taken on the Fourth of July. Independence Day. So was there a hidden message here?

Mother, who will be 88 this September, looked very much at home. Wearing an over-sized white T-shirt with a huge American flag emblazoned on the front, a pair of bright blue pedal pushers, and a big smile on her face, she seemed to be enjoying herself. I couldn’t quite tell what the thing on her head was, but other than that, she looked pretty cool. (Later, she explained: “Oh, that was my crown of stars!”)

I’ll admit I cringed when I first saw the thing on her head. I couldn’t help it. It was just so something I wouldn’t be caught dead in.

Later, I e-mailed an attachment of the photograph to Clyde Edgerton. Of all my friends, I figured Clyde would most enjoy seeing this, since he’s always writing novels about the curious things people do when they get old.

Within minutes, I heard back.

“Marshall,” said the e-mail. “I could have guessed that was yo’ mama. For one thing, that thing she has on her head has your name all over it!”

The man driving the motorcycle looked like someone Mother picked up in a biker bar. I doubt my mother has ever been to a biker bar, but that’s how he looked.

When I first saw the photo, I thought Mother was getting back at me for that time I sent her a black-and-white eight-by-ten of me and Claiborne Thornton astride a Harley-Davidson my sophomore year at Vanderbilt. In that picture, I’m wearing faded cut-offs, a fully-stocked bandolier, and English riding boots, while holding a semi-automatic rifle. I doubt the gun upset Mother as much as the cigarette dangling from my bottom lip. The photograph is inscribed: Happy Mother’s Day! Love, Marshall.

I later learned the real reason Mother sent the photograph. My sister Dorothy had been getting onto her about her proficiency with an automobile, even going so far as to suggest she give up driving her car. That didn’t sit too well with Mother. Her reaction was, Hell, if they take my car, I’ll just get a Harley.

Personally, I think people should be allowed to drive their cars for as long as they want. After all, you’re only old once.

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