Twelve years ago, as I was pondering my upcoming 45th birthday–it felt big back then–I realized that if I was lucky, I was at halftime. If I lived to 90 years, I would be defying the odds.
Three years ago, we celebrated Gail’s 60th birthday (Dance Like Gail’s Watching, February 23, 2020). It was a big one, and on Tuesday, she will have completed yet another trip around the sun. She will get the birthday due she deserves, but her birthday is a bit overshadowed this year.
Gail, Suzanne and I come from a long line of strong women. Our mother, though quiet, possessed a strength that was fierce yet soft, powerful yet gentle. We never knew her mother; she died when Mom was eight, just as our dad’s mother did. Dad’s father didn’t remarry, but Mom’s did. When Mom was a teenager, he married “Granny,” the only grandmother we ever knew. She was an incredible woman as well.
Mom’s full sister, Jeanne, was two years older than her. Mom had two more younger sisters after her dad remarried, Reitha and Sharon.
When Jeanne was 18 months old, she was diagnosed with retinoblastoma–cancer in both retinas. This was in the 1930’s, and treatment was limited. She had both eyes removed, but it didn’t stop her from living a full, robust life.
She attended Kansas School for the Blind in Kansas City, and went on to marry and have two children. She was a medical transcriptionist for the Veterans Administration Hospital in Wichita, and had a full social life. She was a maestro on the organ, playing beautifully at my wedding, and often in her church. In 2006, she died at age 71. Mom died two years later at the same age.
Jeanne and Mom at my wedding shower. She is “looking” at a gift. She often used that word.
Don, her husband, is blind as well. He, too, is an amazing human being, and keeps going strong. On Wednesday of this week, he will turn 90 years old. He retired from a long career at Beech Aircraft in Wichita, but has kept his mind very busy since then. He has an insatiable appetite for information, and can cite current news, world events, historical and biographical information. He listens to news on the radio and television, listens to recorded books and newspapers, and loves to engage in conversation. He has an astonishing and sometimes mystifying sense of local, state and national geography. He lives alone in his home of many years, and has some help weekly with appointments, shopping and such. Our aunt Sharon often takes him on day trips around the state to “see” the sights; he often uses that word. He beat severe Covid in its early days–he spent a week in the hospital— and has conquered many other physical setbacks that may have sidelined a less resilient person. He has outlived his wife and both of his sons.
He “sees” more than most of us do.
This afternoon, Gail, Suzanne and I, along with two of our four brothers and many members of our extended families, gathered at Reitha’s home with her family in Wichita. Sharon lives in Wichita as well, and was there with her family.
It was a grand celebration for an amazing man.
Our sister-in-law Joni “showing” him the candles. Gail’s arm is helping too.
February in Kansas could be a beast, or it could be a perfectly beautiful, sunny, calm, 63-degree day. Today was the latter. It was one of the best gifts any of us could ask for.
There was another gift in hiding for me today.
I often feel a strong sense that Mom and Dad are still with us, and today was no different. I have written about the “Dimes From Heaven” they often send us; they saved dimes in a bank, and they frequently place dimes in our paths, sometimes in ways that cannot be explained. Today, as I entered Reitha’s house through the garage, there was a dime wedged in the crack in the concrete. I showed it to her, reminded her of this sign, and she insisted I keep it. Indeed, they were there with us.
Gail will celebrate her 63rd birthday in a relatively quiet fashion on Tuesday, and Don will turn 90 on Wednesday. Don was the star today, but we will celebrate Gail’s birthday in two weeks in our annual “March Forth” trip to Colorado. Stay tuned.
I often wish I had Gail’s indomitable attitude; nothing gets her down for long. I am continually amazed at Don’s curiosity and resilience; he always bounces back, and is always thirsty for more knowledge. Both of them are incredibly strong in their own ways. Perhaps it is the Pisces in both her and Don, as they are known to be boundless, loyal and can relate to most people. I wish I could “see” the world like both of them do.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY DON AND GAIL!