As we planned our route to Montreal, I noticed that the city of Akron, Ohio, was along our route. “I think that’s where Daddy’s cousin Mottie lives,” I told Ray. I texted my Aunt Emily to be sure and she sent me his address and phone numbers.
I have heard about Mottie Boyd all my life but had only met him once (and briefly) at the funeral for my Daddy Leland back in 1994. Mottie is about to be 91 years old this coming Wednesday, which is also my daddy’s birthday. One, I wanted to spend a little time with him. Two, I wanted the opportunity to hear some stories about my daddy who died too young at 74 thirteen years ago.
When Mottie answered my “cold call” several days before our trip, I asked, “Is this Mottie Boyd?”
He said, “Who??!!”
“Mottie Boyd,” I answered.
“Who’s calling?” he replied.
Then I told him who I was. He said, “That was a name my uncle gave me when I was a baby.” My daddy, my mother, Daddy Leland, Mama Sue, and my aunts all talked about Mottie and always called him by that nickname. I told him that I didn’t know anything else. That’s when I learned that he’s been going by his grownup name of Bruce for decades. Back home in Tennessee, we still call him Mottie.
As I was growing up, Akron was that faraway place “up north” where members of my family went to work in high-paying factory jobs, like so many Southerners did. I expected a dirty industrial city (shame on me), but when we passed the city limit sign in Akron, we entered immediately into a beautiful residential neighborhood, bordered by an upscale commercial district. Everything we saw in Akron was top notch.
Mottie was actually born in Akron while his dad was working there, but he spent seven years of his childhood back in our family’s root land in Cheatham County, Tennessee. There he and my dad formed a tight and special bond. From the way Daddy talked all my life and the way Mottie talked you would think these childhood buddies were the same age, but actually Mottie was five years older than Daddy. Daddy was his tagalong and Mottie loved it.
Mottie told me about their school days in the one-room Sweet Home schoolhouse, where all eight grades learned together. One day Mottie split his head open playing basketball. When he was taken to the doctor, my daddy told “them,” he was going, too — and he did. Mottie told me about their working together in wheat fields and tobacco fields. He talked about his special relationship with Aunt Sue (my Mama Sue) and how they used to laugh together.
Last week after my mother and I visited my Uncle Joel, I took her for a vacation at the assisted living in our hometown while Ray and I are on our trip to Canada. Afterwards, I stopped by to see Daddy’s sister, my Aunt Dot, and her husband Uncle Preston. Dot told me that Mottie lived with Daddy Leland and Mama Sue for a while after he got out of the army. She told me that of all her cousins, he is the most like a brother.
We enjoyed talking with Mottie’s wife Dottie, too, as she lay in the hospital bed in their den where she has been lying for four years. Mottie takes excellent care of her. They have no children and all the responsibility is his, except for the brief time each morning and afternoon when nurses come in to help. Dottie’s roots are also in Tennessee (both sets of her grandparents lived in Nashville), but they met at church in Akron, where her father was the minister at the time. They married in 1950. Dottie can’t go anymore, but Mottie worshipped there yesterday morning at the same congregation.
Just before we left, I asked Mottie for a cousin picture and got Dottie’s permission to put my arm around this man who was so special to my daddy and is therefore special to me. Oh, how I loved looking into that wonderful Boyd face, in which I saw glimpses of several of my long-gone kinfolks.
As we said goodbye at the front door, I talked to Mottie about his good care of Dottie. He was honest with us about the challenges. He summed up his commitment this way: “But you made a vow.”
So they are no longer two, but one flesh.
What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.