Reuben Thibodaux was a really odd duck. I lost track of Reuben in about the seventh grade. He stopped coming to school and the last I heard of him, he was pulling turnips. Reuben used to do some really weird things. For instance, Reuben rode to school on a donkey. School started at 8:30, and he lived a good ten miles away, far back in the woods, so he and that donkey had to start really early. Now that I think of it, Reuben rarely made it to school on time. I remember a girl in our grade that Reuben didn’t like. Lydia DeSoto sat in front of him in the fourth grade. She would flip her head and her long blond locks would hit him in the face. Once Reuben threatened Lydia. “If you flip that hair back again, I am going to cut it off.” She squinted her eyes in a threatening way and snarled back, “You will not!” But he did. And for that he was kicked out of school for a while. I can still see Reuben riding off into the sunset. Another big thing I recall about Reuben was the tuna fish sandwich he brought from home everyday. I used to trade my lunch room food with Reuben to get his sandwich. They were the best I had ever had.
One day I asked Aunt Eva if I could go see him. His antics made me want to get to know him. She knew little to nothing about his family, but she reluctantly agreed. I rode the bus to Reuben’s house. It dropped me off at the end of a long gravel road that seemed to be carved out of a thick swamp. I felt adventurous as I walked down this strange lane to see this strange boy. As I approached the unpainted, sort of leaning house the hunting dogs came out from under the porch and started barking. The barking brought Reuben to the screen door. “Come on in.” He seemed glad to see me. Reuben asked me if I wanted to meet his folks. I couldn’t wait! If Reuben was this eccentric, I couldn’t wait to meet his parents! We went into a bedroom. “This is my dad…” Reuben said as he went over to his dad’s bed. His father was on an oxygen tank. An old fan blew on him to keep the mosquitoes at bay and to bring in a little cool air to comfort him. “Hey son…” said the old man, gasping for breath as he lay there. “Hello,” was about all I could muster. Standing beside the bed, with her hand gently stroking the old man’s brow, was a girl of about 15. “Hi,” she said. I turned to Reuben. “Oh, this is my sister.” The girl added, as if used to the omission, “My name is Sue.” She went on to say that their mother had died some years ago. Their father was now dying of a lung disease. There was no other family. They had moved to this rural community for farming work. There was no money to go back “home” and I never did learn where that was. I stayed there for another hour or so, playing outside with Reuben with the most primitive of toys, even for me. I had seen what I had come to see. I was ready to go. I began to understand. Reuben’s great tuna sandwiches were actually made by his sister, Sue.
I began to pay attention when Sue came over to speak with Reuben. Sometimes she would scold him. Sometimes when others were making fun of Reuben, Sue would almost magically appear. Reuben acted as if he didn’t care. One time someone said something very rude about Reuben, his clothes, his donkey, his ways. And he broke down and cried. I went over to him and tried to comfort him. He was really crying. I put my arm around him, but he thew it off. About that time his sister, Sue, came over. She put her arm around him. He seemed to fall into her as if she was the only one who could understand the pain inside the pain. Sue patted Reuben as she held him, almost rocking him, as they sat there on a bench on the playground. Sue turned to me. “Daddy died.” I was stunned. Now Reuben was, well, he was like me. He had no mama, no daddy. And Sue was providing the things that mothers provide. Sue was doing the things that mothers do. Sue was Reuben’s sister and “like a mother” as the Scriptures say. She was like my Aunt Eva. She was God’s gift to Reuben. I lost track, as I said, of Reuben. And I lost track of Sue. They were different. But I had so much in common with them.
Mother’s Day is a day when we remember our mothers. We recall those women in our lives who understood us when no one else did. Perhaps some of us think of our mothers or maybe another special caring woman, like Aunt Eva in my case, or a grandmother, or even a sister. I pray that on this day each of us would thank God for the women He put in our lives who brought us the comforts of life.
God says that He is like a Mother. I wonder how many of you today feel misunderstood, lonely, and in need of comfort. “As one whom his mother comforts, so will I comfort you…” (Isaiah 66:13a ESV).
In Jesus Christ, the one who wept over a sinful city and spoke about himself as a mother hen gathering her bitties, we have one who will never leave us nor forsake us.
And every-time I eat a tuna fish sandwich I think of Reuben, and especially Sue and her mother’s love for her brother. And the memory leads me to Jesus.
Happy Mother’s Day!