INTERSTATE 20 — The man sitting beside me didn’t say much.  I had Merle Haggard sort of low on the stereo and the man was listening if not talking ... but then did:

“I love the old country music.”

I turned Merle up a notch and we listened, going with the flow on the way to Birmingham to see a close friend who has been battling for life for a month or so at UAB.

The man sitting next to me is from my years as a sports writer for this newspaper. Other than remembering him as a really fine football player, I didn’t know that much about him, hadn’t heard his name mentioned in years ... so I asked.

The story is touching ...

“I was seven years old when my daddy was injured in a logging accident, broke his back. He was at UAB a year and a day before he could come home.

“Daddy lived in pain, couldn’t work. It was 10 years before he worked again, got a job driving a bulldozer. We lost our house, we lost our car, we lost everything.

“My mom had to take over and do the best she could to hold the family together. I have often wondered what we would have done had she not been the strong and determined woman that she was.

“She went to work at West Anniston Drug and later worked at Downey’s Drug Store.”

He told me his mom was the first person Jim Downey hired at West Anniston Drug. Between there and Downey’s, his mom put in 42 years taking care of a son and his two sisters.

The hard times didn’t go away soon.

Even after his father finally went back to work driving a bulldozer, that, too, had a tragic finish, one that put emotions on the rack once again. His dad developed Alzheimer’s.

Then there was ...

“My sister Jean Champion had one son, Wesley. He died in 1991, cystic fibrosis. Wesley was born on my grandmother’s birthday and died on Mother’s birthday. But she was there for my sister and for all of us during a very sad time.”

Being there for each other was a way of life in their family. While it’s what a family should do, it doesn’t always play out that way. I’m sure some of you, sadly, have played with the other side of the coin.

“We have always been a very close-knit family and we owe that to my Mother. She’s 88 years old now and still lives by herself. She can’t get around very well anymore, but she still has a lot of pride in what she does.”

There was quite a bit more to Inaree Carden that her son told me, but space gives you something of a Reader’s Digest version ... condensed, big time.

But in a moment of silence, the title from an old John Wayne movie came to mind ...

“True Grit.”

Later, I went looking for more and found this:

“Grit is picking yourself up and moving forward when you think you can’t take one more step.”

I have no idea who said  that, but the story her son told me says that fits Inaree Carden very well.

The man’s name is Wayne Carden. He is now in his late 50s, but in the years I remembered him it was as Wayne Carden, a really fine football player at Wellborn High back in the late 1960s. He was also a four-year starter as a defensive back at Jacksonville State.

But it is obvious the one thing of which Wayne Carden is proudest is being Inaree Carden’s son.

And Sunday next, I suspect he will tell her that for ... Mothers Day.

If your mom is still around, you might do the same ... and say “I love you.”

George Smith can be reached at 256-239-5286 or email: gsmith731@gmail.com.