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Encore: Remembering Maria Angelica Mares, who died of COVID, with 'I Walk the Line'

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

This year, we've been remembering some of the nearly 800,000 people in the U.S. who have died from COVID-19 through the music that gave their lives meaning. Earlier this year, Lionel Mares shared stories about his mother, Maria Angelica Mares, of Sun Valley, Calif. And he says the song his mom loved was "I Walk The Line" by Johnny Cash.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOHNNY CASH SONG, "I WALK THE LINE")

LIONEL MARES: She grew up in Mexico in a small town called San Julian in Jalisco. She grew up impoverished. She worked at a young age until she met my dad and got married, and she moved to California in her late 20s. She felt at home here for many years.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOHNNY CASH SONG, "I WALK THE LINE")

MARES: My mom was really a positive person. She was always joyful, always loved being with friends, family. My mom would crack up jokes, and she would laugh. And that would make me laugh, too, because it's just those sort of moments, you know?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I WALK THE LINE")

JOHNNY CASH: (Singing) I walk the line.

MARES: My mom liked country music. And she will always be, like, singing along in her car or on the porch - always a smile on their face, you know? That's what I always remember about my mom. It's the happiness. When I go visit her at the cemetery, I would sing the song, you know, like, in my head or on a low voice and - I'll keep you on my mind both day and night.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I WALK THE LINE")

CASH: (Singing) Both day and night. And happiness I've known proves that it's right.

MARES: As I grew older and she became sick and couldn't walk no more, I became her caregiver. And it was very important for me to be there for her, to take care of her, you know, give her medication. I felt, like, a sense of responsibility that I would not let my mom down.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I WALK THE LINE")

CASH: (Singing) You give me cause for love that I can't hide. For you I know I'd even try to turn the tide.

MARES: She always loved going to the beach 'cause she liked being around the water, and she always loved being active. And when she couldn't drive anymore, I would drive her to those places - to the beach, the mountains - and just spend time with her in nature.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I WALK THE LINE")

CASH: (Singing) I keep a close watch on this heart of mine.

MARES: I love my mom, and I miss her so much. And I miss hearing her voice and her smile.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I WALK THE LINE")

CASH: (Singing) I keep my eyes wide open all the time.

CORNISH: That was Lionel Mares from Sun Valley, Calif., remembering his mother, Maria Angelica Mares. She was 61 when she died from COVID-19 in April of last year. This tribute to her aired earlier this year.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOHNNY CASH SONG, "I WALK THE LINE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.