Bobby Neal Winters
Bobby Winters

I am back from my cousin Karen’s funeral. Strictly speaking, she wasn’t my cousin; she was my cousin’s wife. But there are some relationships that are so long-standing time erases the difference between blood and non-blood.

Suffice it to say that I never didn’t know Karen. She was there in my earliest memories. I look now at the relationship between my youngest daughter and my grandsons and say, yes, it was like this.

She gave me one of the best gifts I’ve ever received. It is an image of myself — I tried to type that as “my self” but my grammar corrector wouldn’t let me; damned machines.

Often people who’ve known us a long time will remember scenes that we have forgotten because we were so young when they happened. This I remember myself.

It was a hot summer day in Oklahoma. I was sitting in a part of our yard where the grass was dead because it was on a path between our house and my grandparents' house. It had been dry for so long that the ground was dusty. I was three years old.

Karen came up to me and asked, “What are you doing?”

“I’m making mud pies!” I replied with glee.

“Making mud pies?” she asked with some confusion. “How can you make mud pies? There’s no mud!”

Whereupon, I stood, peed in the dust as little boys in the country are wont to do, and made mud from the dust. Thence I began to make mud pies.

Any gift someone gives you is a mixture of them and you. It is a reflection of you in them. Sometimes it is more of them; sometimes it is more clearly of you. To me, this is one of the most accurate reflections of myself that I have seen.

I could attempt to elevate this, and talk about Jesus curing the man from blindness. He spat in dirt to make mud and rubbed it in the blind man’s eyes. In this, he used the mystical elements of water and earth along with his own divine essence to give the gift of sight.

I didn’t do any of that.

This is a strange self-image for someone who has gotten a PhD in mathematics, who’s been an academic for more than thirty years, who has traveled the world to London, Moscow, and Sao Paulo.

Karen repeated the story to me many times at transitions in my life when there may have been a danger of me forgetting who I really was: graduations, marriage, jobs.

In some sense, the story serves the same function as God telling Adam, you were made from dust and to dust you shall return. I am, and always will be, that little Okie boy in the dust, wanting to make mud pies.

Remember your origins. Remember the people who’ve always been around you. Never forget who you are.

I can always make my own fun. I can always make do with what I have.

There are times that, when I am making do, I make other people shudder. That is their problem.

Thank you, Karen, for helping me remember who I am. Because of this I will never forget you.

Bobby Winters, a native of Harden City, Oklahoma, blogs at redneckmath.blogspot.com and okieinexile.blogspot.com. He invites you to “like'' the National Association of Lawn Mowers on Facebook. Search for him by name on YouTube.