As soon as anything goes wrong in a man's life -- woman trouble, money trouble, or trouble in the streets -- the first thing he wants to do is go home to mother. Some try to resist the urge, but here I am, back in the Confederacy's last capital -- a town to which I once vowed never to return -- and happy to be here because my mother lives here.

My problem was less severe than the unemployment and criminal involvement that causes many mothers nightmares. I was simply lethargic, feeling down and out. Some would call it "lazy." But mom said come on down because she has the cure, as usual.

The cure is called a "nine-day blood wash," a kind of home remedy for tired blood that consists of eating only collard greens and spinach and drinking fruit juices and warm skim milk with crushed garlic for nine long days.

"We're going to play hardball," she told me, belying the image of mothers as pamperers and spoilers of their sons.

My father shrugs off her home remedy as if it were some kind of voodoo, but it is mom who can still swim a mile a day while dad falls asleep after a meal of steak and potatoes.

I was turning out to be like him, so I decided to listen to mother for a change.

As I embark on her inspired and relentlessly monitored program, I can only wonder how she does it -- how any mother maintains that special kind of love for her family. God knows it's too often underappreciated.

Growing up here, the oldest of three children and the only son, I lived the life of Riley.

My sisters had needs and so did my father. But when I wasn't feeling good, I always got the best of her attention and care.

It never occurred to me to consider what my mother might have been going through -- whether she was not feeling well or had had a rough day. She simply would not show it, certainly not make an emergency room case out of a common cold, as I did.

I remember when my father decided to go back to school for his master's degree, how mother took over the household. She mowed the lawn, planted flowers, made repairs, did the laundry, cooked the food and still had the energy to wash and braid my sisters' hair, take us to Sunday school, read bedtime stories and whack our butts with back-yard switches, when necessary.

She drilled us on homework, made us write until our fingers cramped. No homework, no play. No Sunday school, no ball game -- and all this on top of holding down a full-time job as a high school teacher.

Occasionally, she rewarded herself with a Saturday shopping spree downtown, always alone to spare her children the bitterness of knowing that blacks were not even allowed to try on a hat before buying it (we're talking about 1960).

In retrospect, her feats were nothing short of amazing. And now that we're grown and out of the house, the love continues in her own special way.

"No meat, no salt, no sugar, no coffee, no alcohol, no cigarettes -- and no cheating," she tells me sternly. "Good health is the key to happiness."

Let me say that this blood-wash program is not for everybody. It will make you dizzy, sometimes nauseous. By day seven, you catch yourself looking at household pets with a watering mouth. But after nine days, it becomes obvious that mother knows best.

This is no slight to my father -- or any father, for these days just having one is almost a rarity. It's just that, as Erich Fromm once observed, father love is sometimes based on how well a child obeys and how much he achieves. It is father love that motivates a child to obey the laws of society and adopt its values.

On the other hand, says sociologist Robert Staples, "mother love is unconditional, the only thing a child can depend on whether he is handsome or ugly, successful or a failure."

Just knowing this makes me feel better. Indeed, it would take a mother's love to make warm skim milk and garlic go down like fine vintage wine.

So happy mother's day to her, and mothers everywhere.