HAPPY BIRTHDAY MOM!
Mom never missed a birthday for any of her seven children. That was 296 birthdays, if my math is right. When we were grown, she would send a card or call, or both. In our younger years at home, she always made sure to observe the birthday with a cake and a small celebration. We always got at least one small gift when we were kids. We each got to host one large party when we turned ten.
She not only never forgot our birthdays, she could tell you what time of day each of us was born, our weight, and our head circumference. Whenever possible, she would call at the exact birth minute.
I gave birth only twice, and I think I can remember the exact minute of their births; I remember the hours at least. I’ve got their birth weights committed to memory. I have no idea what their head circumferences were.
Suzanne just informed me during this writing that she could remember our actual due dates as well, and when we started walking. Gail added that she remembered our chest circumferences, too.
The least we can do is remember her birthday.
And we still do.
When Suzanne lived in Osborne near them, she would take Mom on a shopping trip every year; Gail and I would come when we could. On her last birthday in 2008, Suzanne and I took her to Grand Island (A Grand Overnight Island Getaway, December 10th). That year—as usual—we went to TJMaxx. Mom helped me pick out a new purse. It would come to signify the last excursion I took with Mom.
The next year when her birthday rolled around, I found myself recalling bittersweet memories of that last birthday trip. I decided to chuck work for the day and take a shopping trip in her honor. Every year since then, I have done the same on or near her birthday. Sometimes, Gail and Suzanne go, sometimes I go alone. Always, I go to TJMaxx. Always, I buy a new purse there in her honor.
On Sunday, January 21st, Suzanne and I will be shopping a day early in her honor. Gail is hunkering down for another western Kansas blizzard as I write, and cannot make the trip. We will have another celebration in her honor in just six weeks in Colorado.
My heart is heavy this week with the news of the 13 siblings from California who were found malnourished, tortured and hidden away in their home. I cannot shake the reality of this incomprehensible situation; cannot wrap my mind around it. How could two parents be so horribly abusive to their children? How could they continue to reproduce? How could they be surprised when they were arrested, as if they did nothing wrong? How is this fair? (It’s not.) How?
How, I must also ask, were we so blessed to have two incredible parents? How else can I give thanks for what we had?
Mom saw to that in Peace, Sister (July 16th). If we can share the peace they left us with the worlds each of us live and interact in, that would be the best birthday gift we could give her every day, not just for her birthday.
We are all connected, all of us. Even to those 13 children. We are all in this together, and any good deed—large or small—creates a ripple. I try to do what I can to create good ripples, and create them often. That was Mom’s last wish. But that’s hard. Most days, I fail miserably. It’s easier to do what I want, to do what benefits me first. I fight this every day. But Mom’s wish is a good reminder, so I keep trying.
Mom lost her mother to leukemia when she was just eight. Her older sister Jeanne was blind, and was away at the Kansas School for the Blind in Kansas City during the school year. Our grandpa, along with help from his mother and other relatives helped to raise Mom and Jeanne. Having only eight years with her own mother had to be heartbreaking for Mom, but she obviously had a strong seed planted within her from this short time to teach her how to be the incredible mother she was. With the other positive maternal influences from her grandmother and aunts from that point on, Mom was given a gift of incredible motherly love, even if it wasn’t from her own mother. When Mom was 12, her dad remarried and Mom gained a wonderful stepmother, who eventually became our grandmother. She was the only grandmother we ever knew, because Dad’s mother died when he was eight as well. His dad didn’t remarry. Mom soon got two more sisters from this union, something she was so excited about. Having a mother again, as well as two more sisters was something she so longed for, and she got it.
Mom never liked to have her picture taken, but somehow I think she wouldn’t mind me sharing these pictures from her youth.
The picture below is one of the few I found of her with her older sister and their mother.
She wouldn’t have approved of me sharing this next picture if she were here, but, again, I think she is okay with it now.
Our sisterly consensus is that it was taken on her 70th birthday. She would celebrate her 71st birthday, and be gone six weeks later.
Mom’s birthday is an important landmark in my writing endeavors. When I was limping along in my struggle to write my book, I realized I needed a deadline, a self-imposed limit to my tendency to slack. I decided Mom’s birthday would be the perfect target, and I let her know that. I gave myself one year to finish writing, get it self-published and get it out. I told her on her last birthday that I would have it finished by her next birthday, and I meant it. I got busy writing.
Six weeks later, both Mom and Dad were gone. My heart was shattered, and I was sure I would never be able to write again. Then, I remembered my promise to Mom. I had no choice but to move forward. I would miss her birthday deadline the next year and take more time to eventually finish the book, but I did finish it. I know she understood. Without her birthday deadline, I may have let it go.
A birthday is a celebration of the fact that that someone arrived in the world, was sent to fill the space created for them. It is an annual observation this arrival, and the fact that we have made it a better place (hopefully).
Our mother certainly did.
On Monday, January 22nd, we will celebrate her arrival here, the space she filled and all the ways she made the world a better place. She is gone from this plane, but she is still with us in so many ways. She wanted us to know this, and to never forget it. She would have been 81 years old.
I have spoken of The Letter she left us in previous posts, and I while it is a private family treasure, I want to share the last line, one sentence that continues to comfort all of us:
“Please don’t think I have left you, I am still very much with you.”
We are still very much with you too, Mom.
When Gail was born in February 1960, there was a massive snowstorm that socked Mom, Dad, Gary and Gail in for six weeks. They lived west of our family farm, deeper in a hilly area that couldn’t be reached due to the snow. Gail said Mom spoke of how she treasured this precious time together as mother and new baby. Now, the irony is that Gail is getting snowed in and can’t make it for Mom’s birthday/shopping party with Suzanne and me this year.
Just got home from the birthday celebration. I think I am going to love my new purse.
Happy Birthday Mom. The world is a better place because you were in it.