- Published: 29 July 2020 29 July 2020
Southern readers lost another friend last week. Mama Red, the elderly mother cow who was the inspiration and, perhaps it is not too much to say, spiritual center of One Good Mama Bone, the debut novel by South Carolina author Bren McClain, passed away last week. She was 29. Which is about 21 years older than most cows ever live.
McClain, who is from a cattle ranching family, bought Mama Red from her father in 2008 to save her from being slaughtered--the fate most cows after they can no longer bear young. It was an early morning encounter with Mama Red, standing in the corner of her pen, bellowing for her calf in a field and several fences away, that became the central theme of the novel McClain was trying to write:
"I would not see it yet, but she and the others had pushed the end post forward with such force that it angled out as if it was an arm waving at something familiar. And it was. Their babies. They were some thirty yards away, at the other end of a grassy lane. Like their mamas, they, too, stood huddled. They, too, sent forth sounds. Deep ones. Long ones."
One Good Mama Bone was published in 2017 featuring Mama Red at the center of the story and immediately became a Southern favorite. McClain, who never met a book club she didn't like, did approximately 187 book signing events at local bookstores within the space of 90 days. At least, that is what it seemed like to those following her Facebook and Instagram posts. And everywhere she went readers came to know and love Mama Red. They sent her paintings and aprons and knitted things and wrote songs. Lately, they have been sending facemasks.
Mama Red became a kind of patron saint of Southern book clubs and a living symbol to readers of the beauty and power of motherhood. Reviewers sometimes described One Good Mama Bone as a celebration of the maternal instinct, but "a veneration" is what the author called it in an interview: " It’s about an attitude of service—no, a heart of service—to someone else’s needs, someone whose life you can make better, stronger." Bren McClain said that Mama Red was her link to the divine.
On July 22nd, that link was broken. As McClain wrote, "Mama Red's work on earth is done. She has returned to God."