Saturday, May 12, 2012

Surrogate son

I don't remember exactly when I began visiting Maurice Carter's mother for Mother's Day.

I began working on his case in about 1995, and it was a nine year battle to free him from prison. Over the years, as our relationship developed and we began calling each other "brother," it dawned on me that he couldn't visit his mom on Mother's Day. I promised him that I would visit her, in his place.

Elizabeth Fowler lived in a ramshackle dwelling in one of Gary, Indiana's, less pleasant neighborhoods. After my first visit it became apparent that she needed more than a visit. So in subsequent years, I would load up the car with groceries in addition to flowers and a greeting card. And even though it was up to me to purchase the flowers and the cards, I assured her that they came from Maurice, to which she always replied, "That Maurice, he's such a good boy."

As my retired pastor friend Al Hoksbergen became more friendly with Maurice and more versed about the case, I asked him to share this experience with me. We would go to see Mrs. Fowler not only on Mother's Day, but also at Christmas time. Each time we would bring flowers and gifts and greeting cards, but especially groceries. She was always pleased that I brought a pastor along, and loved to discuss spiritual matters.

When Maurice was alive and still in prison, he would call from the prison while we were there. What a delightful time that would be for his elderly mom, whose mind for the most part was able to stay relatively focused.

Al and I continued the practice after Maurice died in 2004, driving to Gary faithfully every Mother's Day and Christmas. We would not only stock up her kitchen, but we would remind her of the many wonderful memories of her son, talk about her faith, and say a prayer with her.

One day Mrs. Fowler was gone, and no one seems to know where. Maurice had a half-brother from another state who apparently decided his mother should come home with him. He came unannounced, told no one where he was taking her, and departed. We never saw her again, but because of her age we are assuming that she and Maurice are finally together again now.

But on Mother's Day, those memories will not fade. I used to tell Mrs. Fowler that if Maurice was my brother, she was then my adopted mother, and how she would laugh. And when I left her, the mandatory hug.

Precious memories.

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