The Birthday Girl

I never expected my mother to live to be 80, let alone 92.  As a matter of fact, my mother never expected to live much beyond 70.  But here we are – mother turning 92 in a day or so, daughter 63 for a while yet – looking at one another cautiously over the dinner table, trying to understand how such a thing could have happened.

Luck played a role, of course.  My maternal grandmother died when my own mother was only 16 and all but one of her sisters died young. The odds appeared to be against her from the start.  But when the scourges of increasing age arrived and attempted to take their toll, they were beaten back. The surgeries healed. The heart attack responded to the stent and the congestive heart failure was remedied by the pacemaker.  At 70, things were looking good.  At 75, we were amazed.  At 80, we sat at the dinner table with friends and laughingly agreed it was a good year for the extravagance of jewelry and gold. After all, as my mother herself pointed out with great realism and without embarassment, it might be the last year for gifts.

As she began to move into her eighties, each of my mother’s trips to an assortment of doctors resulted in high hilarity as the latest injuries and surgeries were catalogued.  Double ankle fracture. Rotator cuff repair. Pulled tendon. Tibia crack.  “Listen”, said the orthopedic surgeon. “You’ve got to stop playing soccer.”

As the years went by, she stopped degenerating physically and seemed to regenerate.  The stresses that resulted from my father’s death, the forced sale of her home, the moves to Kansas and then on to Texas began to ease.  Like every mother and daughter, we  experienced a few cracks and fractures in our own relationship, but we coped.  I haven’t a clue what she was thinking when the conflicts erupted or the silence set in, but I know I was repeating to myself the mantra of every befuddled, middle-aged child: “I’m the adult in this room.”  And, ultimately, I was. But so was she.

When it came time to celebrate her ninetieth year, there were options galore.   At first we considered a little party, perhaps dinner at home with friends and a cake.  We thought of indulging in a favorite restaurant, splurging on tiny portions of marvelous food and a nice Sauvignon Blanc. We wondered aloud if it might not be a fine day for a drive into Houston, or a trip to Galveston’s Strand.

Any of those would have been lovely, but 90 years of life, 90 years of experience and struggle and endurance is worth more than dinner and a cake.  We talked, discussed and fussed a little at one another until finally determining a fit course.  We would go east, to Louisiana, first to Breaux Bridge and Acadiana, and then beyond to Baton Rouge, where cousins still live. 

Beulah continues to live on the very property where I first came to love the moss-draped oaks of Evangeline’s world, and her sister Marlene is not far away.  They’ve been there all along, descendents of my great, great-grandfather David Crowley. He traveled a bit himself, journeying to Iowa from West Virginia via Texas before traveling to Colorado to try to make a fortune panning gold.  When war was declared between the States he returned to Iowa, helping to form the 34th Iowa, a regiment that fought from Vicksburg to Boca Chica, from Mobile to the Atchafalaya Basin and New Orleans. At war’s end, he made a final return to Iowa and continued building the family whose descendents later scattered across a dozen states. 

How part of that family arrived back in Louisiana is a story for another time, and the mysterious fact that my mother’s generation of cousins lost touch with one another may have to remain just that: a mystery.  But as they say in Texas, what goes around does come around, and it’s never too late to re-join generations torn asunder by time and circumstance.

That my 90-year-old Mother would be reunited at last with Beulah and Marlene, also in their nineties, should have been birthday gift enough. But there was something more, something wonderful even beyond the telling of it.  Those Baton Rouge cousins never had seen their great-grandfather, David Crowley. Serendipitously, moved by reasons of my own, I had been digging into envelopes and boxes left to moulder in dark closets and the vaulted silence of banks. What I found we carried with us to share with the cousins, a gift to them from the past and the beginning of a family’s personal reconstruction. 

There are photographs, with names inscribed on the back. There are Civil War pension documents and hand-written letters from women who endured the journey by wagon across the Texas plains. There is a twenty-five page family history written by Beulah and Marlene’s mother Fannie, and copies of transcribed information from a family Bible that was certified by the Clerk of Courts.  Best of all, there is a single tintype, rescued from the drifts of paper that might have hidden it forever.  It is David, and his wife Annie, and the daughters of their family. Forced by photographic necessity into silence and immobility, they gaze serenely into the eyes of history as though waiting to reach out across the years, to  reestablish contact and to be seen at last by another generation, itself nearly gone.

As we linger now after dinner, mulling over family history and considering our plans for this year’s celebration, I suddenly become aware of a distinct silence at my mother’s side of the table.  “What?” I ask.  Giving her coffee entirely too much attention, she finally looks up. “When we went to Baton Rouge to visit Beulah and Marlene – do you remember what I told you about your camera?”  I do remember. She made me promise that, no matter how fine the photographs, no matter how lovely or intriguing the images, I wouldn’t post them online.

“The same rule applies this year”, she says. “You can’t put any pictures of me on that silly machine of yours.”  Startled into my own silence, I think for a moment and then ask why.  She gives me her look that clearly translates “I have raised me an idiot child” and says, “Because, dear – I’m 92 years old.  I have no desire to have my picture on your page. Write what you like, but keep my picture out of it.”  After a bit of gentle protest I agree, but as I sit and sip my coffee, I’m still thinking my way around the issue.  Eventually I glance up to find my mother gazing at me with the serenity of David, Annie and the girls.  “No,” she says.  “No pictures at all.  None. Not even when I’m dead and gone.”

After 63 years, I’m still no match for my mother. It’s a wonder I ever got away with anything.

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25 thoughts on “The Birthday Girl

  1. So beautiful. I just loved your story. Today was my mom’s 77th and she is clearly concerned about ‘in just 3 more years I’ll be 80!’, as if it were an entirely preposterous idea, and indeed it is. Who can imagine they’ll ever be 80!

    Thanks again. I’m going to share your story with her.


    Happy birthday and best wishes to your mom!

    Isn’t it funny how we think of this aging business? First it’s 30 that’s the big challenge, and then we get the black balloons at 40. When we hit 50 we start hearing about it being “all downhill from here”, and 80? Good gosh – the end of the road.

    Except, it isn’t, or it doesn’t have to be. I’ve known several vibrant ninety-somethings, and I’ve known more than my share of 40 year olds who act like they have one foot in the grave. My paternal grandmother used to say, “Life’s a gift. Whether you open it or not is up to you.” Pretty wise words.

    Thanks for stopping by, and for the kind words. I’m glad you enjoyed the piece, and hope your mom does, too.


  2. Happy happy birthday to your mom!!

    Family history is such fascinating stuff–how wonderful that she was able to reconnect with her cousins two years ago (you sitting “quietly” in a corner, collecting notes–eagerly awaiting whatever stories you choose to share). My parent’s house has been the repository of photos, diaries, trunks and who knows what all else from my mother’s family for decades. My dad’s side is less well documented. He’ll be 80 next year (a mere child!) and I keep thinking I’d like to fix that situation…

    Anyhow, 92 is a grand age, and I predict that your Grande Dame will be keeping you “in line” for a good while yet. We all know you need it ;)


    Thanks so much for the greeting. We’re having one of those perfect spring mornings – already warm and sunny, with the pear trees in full bloom – and I anticipate a lovely day.

    Family history is interesting. When I made the trek last year to Mississippi for the blues festival, Uncle Henry’s Inn had more than literary importance to me. It sits on Yazoo Pass, and the Yazoo Pass expedition actually was David Crowley’s first experience in war. Vicksburg came next. I’ve put together a complete itinerary of his regiments journey through the South, and my dream is to trace that journey from beginning to end. Since so much of his time was spent in Texas and Louisiana (he mustered out in Houston!) I can begin the work even while I’m limited in my ability to travel.

    Mom will be glad to hear your vote of confidence on her ability to keep me in line. She worries about that a great deal! ;-)


  3. Linda, what a marvellous tribute to your mum.

    I am sure with her resilience, and her determination to keep you in check, (and not forgetting the love and care you administer), your mother will still be around to celebrate her centenary!

    Wishing you both a wonderful day together, and many more to come.



    When I suggest to Mom that she might well live to 100, she rolls her eyes and says, “God forbid!” But she doesn’t say it as enthusiastically as she used to. It’s a fact that when you’re feeling good, independent and alert, living has a whole lot to commend it!

    I know this. If any politician or bureaucrat comes along and suggests that my mother not receive medical care she needs because she’s too old to provide a return on the investment, they’re going to have me to deal with ;-)

    How nice that we’re going to be celebrating on your Mothering Day! And believe it or not, I’m taking her violets this morning – not your kind of violets, as they don’t grow here, but a lovely African violet of hers that I brought home and resuscitated. It’s in full, lovely bloom – rather like Mom.


  4. The last passage sure made me smile, a determined woman, I like them :-)


    Both of us have grown into our determination, resiliancy and independence. I do have to keep an eye on Mumsie, because she’s so determined not to “be a problem” to anyone she sometimes doesn’t confess to problems. But sharp? There’s no one sharper. I do have to keep that in mind!


  5. I’m no match for mine, either. At 49 and 74 we are much the same as you and your mother. Except mine doesn’t know I have a blog; for some strange reason, it’s the one part of my life I’ve kept separate from her and I can’t even say why…

    Your story makes me think of my grandmother on my maternal side, who died when she was 94 after living alone, independent as always. Aren’t they a wonder, these woman? Able to survive family hurts, physical degeneration and then, oddly enough, regeneration? (I loved how you said that.)

    I look at my mother across the table, strange pair that we are, and think how all the things about her that once irritated me are now the things I appreciate the most. She was never able to accept something she didn’t agree with, and that very tenacity has brought her in touch with a doctor who can heal my husband…

    We are blessed, you and I. We are the adults in the room, and so are they, and I suspect we’ll always be taking advice from them. Or, at least honoring their requests.


    For some reason your comment reminds me of the Biblical commandment: honor your father and mother… It doesn’t say always agree with, or become a mirror image of, or even have affection for. It says, “Honor…” If anything in the current health care debate grieves me, it is the way it has revealed how little honor old people have in our society. It’s a commonplace now to acknowledge “warehoused” elders. It’s quite something else to hear, however disguised, suggestions that they are less worthy of medical care because they have less to contribute to society. In years, perhaps. In wisdom, insight, compassion and tolerance for ambiguity – hardly. They have far more to offer than some of those who are deciding their fates.

    I smiled at your “secret” blog. Perhaps in a way it’s your secret garden (I saw your post at Lex’s). I don’t understand the impulse toward secrecy, but I also participate in it. I share my published magazine articles with my mom, but the poetry published in a book ~ a “real” book? I haven’t breathed a word. I don’t know why.

    We are blessed. Not everyone manages to grow up, but when we do, it’s wonderful.


  6. You are making me even more determined to force and annoy my Dad to hell to eat three times a day and take a walk once in a while; Mom, to be patient on her nerves. I want them to reach such age. My Dad is already 60 and I’m still 15, I can’t imagine how Earth could revolve like nothing happens if I lose them.


    Your comment made me stop and think ~ it’s been nearly 30 years since my own Dad died of cancer. It was such terrible irony, as he’d had several heart attacks, and everyone in the family was certain his heart would give out in the end.

    When he died, Mom’s world very nearly did stop revolving. We were laughing the other day at all the things she’d never – NEVER! – done before his death. She’d never put gas in the car, or used a credit card. She’d never purchased a newspaper from a vending machine, or stayed in a motel room without him. She’d never cooked anything on a grill, or driven on a highway.

    To put it mildly, she’d been sheltered, and was happy for that. She’d already raised a family after her mother died and was ready to be taken care of. But when he was gone, she had to begin to learn to take care of herself, and it wasn’t easy – particularly since we were several states apart at the time.

    But she learned, and did all right, although eventually too much being on her own brought her to the point where she needed help medically and the house was simply a burden. We worked all that out, and she moved down here with me some years ago – maybe twelve, now.

    And the world is revolving again. It isn’t like nothing happened, but more like what did happen got caught up in the great spin of life. “Life goes on” can sound cold and harsh at certain times, but in the end it’s a blessing.


  7. Happy Birthday to Mom!

    Beautiful tribute to a strong woman who raised a wonderful and talented daughter.

    I, too, had my disagreements with my mom but the bond was and is always there to mend any rift in our relationship. Mom passed away on March 19 of 2002. I still miss her tremendously.

    Thank you for sharing the memories and the obvious love for your mom, with us.



    Thank you so much for stopping by and leaving a word. It’s amazing parent-child bonds endure beyond death, and even more amazing how they somehow can grow and develop. When my dad died, I was too young in many ways to appreciate fully the meaning of his life. I know him better today than I did all those years ago, and find myself wishing every now and then that he was still here to share something. He would be the computer geek in the family, I know that!

    We had a wonderful day in Galveston yesterday, and will continue the party today!


  8. OK Linda, I’ll be satisfied with the lovely picture you have up top then. Besides, my own mother’s image kept coming up in my mind as I read, so, as far as I’m concerned, your piece is well illustrated!

    Everytime I mention the internet my mother tut-tuts. Like yours, mine has weathered a few storms. Our relationship has taken a few fractures, but has always healed. I think we just want to be gentle with each other now that it feels like we might not have a lot of time left together.

    Wish your mom a happy birthday for me, if you can without eliciting one of those “idiot child” looks.


    I did convey your greetings, and later today I’ll print this all out and put it into Mom’s hand ~ an expanded birthday card, so to speak ;-)

    You’ve expressed it so well, that wanting to be gentle with one another. It seems to me that’s one of the gifts that arrives at the end of the “growing up” process ~ being able to see our own and others’ imperfections, and then to look right past them.

    It makes me happy that you saw your own mother as you read. After all, this is “about” my mom in one sense, but it’s really about all of us, and all those mothers who shaped our lives.


  9. You’ve given me gentle smiles and the warm fuzzies.

    Though my mother passed when I was 29, I have a couple of substitutes. One of them, my cousin Jackie, is very much like your mom, I think, so I can definitely relate.

    Fiercely independent and very strong minded, she lives alone at 86. As hard as her son and daughter have tried to get her to move to a full care retirement community, she has them completely stonewalled. “I like my house.” She has that ‘look’ down pat. I’ve seen it a few times, though it was not really directed at me. I’m just a cousin and I know my place!

    They’ve tried something like your Visiting Angels several times but she fires them after a visit or two. “I don’t have anything for them to do.” I’ve gently tried to encourage her to give it time and arrange doctor visits and whatnot to the days they are there but she’s adamant.
    She does have a cleaning lady that comes in twice weekly. She doesn’t cook much anymore. Neighbors and friends are always dropping off food that she can reheat. She eats a lot of frozen entrees, soup and sandwiches.

    She still drives a bit (!) but has graciously accepted any and all offers of rides to work, luncheons, to visit friends, go to the theatre, etc.
    She is very active in her church. Planning events, hosting her Faith group meetings (they bring the refreshments) and attending Mass almost daily, if someone picks her up.

    I hope I do as well, if I reach that age.


    It always warms my heart when I hear a story of someone aging in the heart of a caring community. That’s what I grew up with, and what is increasingly absent around us. As the tail end of the family, I’ll not have a daughter like me to care for me when I get old (!) so there will need to be some decisions made while I’m still able to make them. A Houston suburb marked by high mobility, high turnover and youthful residents isn’t the best place to grow old, that’s for sure.

    I understand your cousin still driving, and I understand your exclamation point after the fact. When I think about giving up driving, I just quiver. That’s yet another reason small towns are so appealing – in several instances I know of, it was possible for women and men in their 80s and 90s to talk to the post office and grocery and church, and it makes a huge difference. Where we live now, I wouldn’t even be comfortable calling a taxi.
    What a state of affairs!

    Like you, I hope I do as well at that age. Of course, there are days when I hope I do as well tomorrow! :-)


  10. Damn, now all I want is to see a picture of your Mom! Great piece and what an interesting family you have, I can see how you got your talent for weaving bits and pieces together – your life is like that.

    Happy Birthday to your Mom. Of course, now you really can’t help seeing that 100 is in sight. . .


    Oh, trust me. We’ve had that “what would we do if we reach the century mark” discussion. I heard a while back about the oldest person in the world. I think the woman was 119. I told mom about her, and said, “Just think. If you live to be 119, I’ll be 91.” We looked at each other and said, “Oh. My. God.” And then I said, “You can bet we’d be eating more frozen dinners. And have a housekeeper.”

    And I think if she hits 100, we’re going to have to post a few celebratory photos, no matter what!


  11. Another well-written story, Linda. But we’ve come to expect that.

    There are certain “milestone” birthdays in everyone’s life: 13-now you’re a teen; 16-the state allows you to drive; 18-you can vote (used to be 21, of course); then 30 and 40 are minor ones celebrated because you got through another decade without being run over by a bus. Fifty, of course, is monumental. A HALF CENTURY. Then comes 65 when you’re eligible for Medicare and what was once 65 became 65 +10 months to start collecting Social Security and it keeps growing. I guess after that they’re ALL individual “milestones.”

    I’d like to share this, if you will:

    My paternal grandmother was a tough old bird of ancient New England stock who lived to be 98. When she was born there was no such thing as electrical service. No lights that illuminated a room with the flip of a switch.

    She remembered when the great Apache Indian Chief Geronimo surrendered to U.S. Army forces in 1886. She remembered when ox carts hauled farm produce from the farms in Woburn, Massachusetts, into the Faneuil Hall market in Boston. (Faneuil Hall is an iconic hotbed of Revolutionary zeal. It saw the likes of Samuel and John Adams (cousins) Paul Revere and John Hancock gathering to plot insurrection within its walls). Faneuil Hall was still an active market when I was a child and I would go there with my father as he purchased produce for his restaurant and catering business. Now it’s full of chi-chi boutiques and Starbucks Coffee outlets.

    In her lifetime she saw the invention of the electric light, the automobile, heavier than air flight and she marveled at men circling the moon in space craft. (They hadn’t landed yet.)

    On the evening when she died a fierce nor’easter had downed the power lines. The doctor and the family were at her bedside illuminated by a lantern. I’m positive she would have delighted in the irony that in spite of the great technological advances she had witnessed in her lifetime, the day she was born and the day she died there was no such thing as the electric light.


    Amazing that Faneuil Hall Marketplace was targeted for demolition. When I hear such stories I always wonder what the folks who were around in the beginning would think if they were fast-forwarded to today. All those produce-sellers and butchers from the 1700s might enjoy some Starbuck’s.

    That’s a wonderful story about your grandmother and a nice reminder that whatever the surrounding technologies, birth and death are what they are. I confess to some vaguely Luddite-ish tendencies ~ not because I’m opposed to techology or the changes it brings, but because of the illusions it can engender. In the end, we’re physical beings embedded in a physical world, we live in time and history matters. Your grandmother knew that, and we lose that knowledge at our peril.

    Your grandmother reminds me of another lady I knew, years ago. She was 93 when we met, still living independently in her own home. She had sailed from Germany with her parents as a child. They landed at Indianola, Texas, before two hurricanes wiped it off the map and Galveston became the primary port. She walked across the coastal prairie behind an ox-cart to Victoria, and soon began supplementing the family income with a flock of egg-laying hens. She was most interested in what it was like to live in Houston. She’d never been there, and when I asked why, she gave me a look and said, “Well, I’ve been to San Antonio a few times. Why would I need to go to Houston?” Now that I think of it, it’s a perfectly reasonable question.


  12. Tin-types. Yes, that must be what the old photos are called that I inherited last week. Held tight in the paper pockets of an 1870’s vintage photo album are several pages of images of unknown stone-faced people waiting for the magic of photography to immortalize their image. As they gaze into the future, I gaze upon one past, upon one held breath of their life.

    Pity that your Mom has closed all photo loopholes — I too would have enjoyed seeing her image. But then, what would a photo of your mom tell me about her life, about who she is and what she holds dear — about what tragedies she has suffered and what made her heart sing with deep gladness?

    Maybe you Mother knows best. Photos tend to satisfy when they shouldn’t — whether digital or tin types, images can’t capture the mystical truth and depth of a life lived.

    These unknown ancestors of mine are just frozen faces without context – whereas images of those known to me offer context, by kindling memory, keeping part of me alive that would otherwise die.

    May the birthday celebration be memorable — with or without a still image.



    I don’t know ~ I think I give photographs more credit. In the right hands, the camera can provide an amazingly resonant glimpse into the mystery of an individual life. The truth is we often know less than we imagine of the tragedies and gladness of lives ~ even the lives of those we encounter every day. Photos are capable of stopping us in our tracks and making us take that second look, or ask a first question. Certainly it was the tintype of Annie and David and their girls that captured my attention and made me ask the questions that someday may allow me to pull together the bits and pieces of their lives.

    In any event, yesterday was memorable – a trip to the shore, good food, no need for a walker or wheelchair and very little need for assistance for mom, which probably was the best gift of all. Today will be cards and flowers – not store-bought flowers, but her own African violets which she was tired of trying to make bloom and nearly tossed. I brought them home and have coaxed a lovely purple one to put on a mass of blooms. I keep telling her you need to talk to plants – maybe now she’ll believe me ;-)


  13. Happy Birthday and Congratulations to your dear Mother! Getting to 92 is a great achievement in life… and I don’t blame her at all for not wanting her picture in that silly machine of yours… what a smart lady! Who would want one’s very special and private life to be publicized and made accessible to all? It’s not just one picture, it’s the whole identity exposed you know.

    Well Linda, enjoy your precious moments together. Be assured that you have a legion of fans to celebrate with you cyber-style, without intrusion into the endearing mother-daughter world that belongs only to the two of you. There you go… reaping the best from both worlds, real and virtual!


    Many thanks for your greetings. I’ll be sure to pass them on to Mom. As I mentioned above, I’ll be printing all this out for her, having finally figured out that she’s less averse to something she can really “read” and not look at on a screen. I guess that means I won’t be getting her a Kindle for Christmas, either!

    I’ve had to smile – most of us are so sensitive to privacy concerns on the internet we forget there can be far simpler explanations for a reluctance to take part in cyber-life. If I had to bet, I’d bet my mom’s reluctance to have a photo posted is nothing more than a bit of “vanity, thy name is woman”! She’s very attractive, but has a thing about the few wrinkles she has ~ and photos make them show up more prominently! ;-)

    Your comment about real and virtual takes me back to your post about Maugham’s book “Theatre”. The wonderful irony is that in many instances, there’s less pretense and artifice in the virtual world than in the “real”. In the end it isn’t the tecnology that conceals or reveals, but the individual intention. Our discussions back and forth are quite real, after all, and bring me very real pleasure. I’m looking forward to our “next year”, too!


  14. Wow, I loved this. How neat that your mother got celebrate with her cousins.

    My mother’s birthday was Friday (I was supposed to be born on her birthday, but came three days early), and she turned a sprightly 83. She eschews doctors with frightening determination, and so far is about as healthy as one could expect for someone of her age. She went through quite a traumatic time about 20 years ago when my dad suddenly up and ran off with his secretary ( I know, sounds like a bad Lifetime movie), but like your mom, she learned to take care of herself in ways she never dreamed of doing, and is still living independently in her home. She’s quite an inspiration to me.

    Your mother sounds like a strong, smart, and sassy lady – much like you, I think. Thanks for sharing this :)


    Your invitation to write about birthdays was wonderfully serendipitous! And this really was a delight to do – not least of all because of all the wonderful stories I’ve gotten to hear in return. These were the women of “the greatest generation”, and they were pretty darned great themselves!

    Your note about your own mom’s a good reminder that physical trials and tributions aren’t the only hurdles in life. We all have “heart” muscles as well as heart muscles – and I sometimes think strengthening one leads to strength for the other. Certainly my own mom’s physical health has improved as her confidence in dealing with life has increased.

    I love your triad: strong, smart and sassy. I started out “smart”, and after a few decades got much better in the “strong” category. Now, I’m working on sassy!

    Congratulations to you and your mother, too – what fun to be able to celebrate together.


  15. Linda – wonderful read and one that really captured my attention, as I have a similar relationship with my mother now. Oddly enough, my mom is healthy as an ox, but has had so many surgeries she is criss-crossed with scar lines. Kidney stones, gall bladder, cancer, knee replacement, hip replacement, C-section with my youngest brother, bit through the lip by a dog when she was just a girl – yet she’s rarely sick. She did contract polio when she was pregnant with my younger brother – and she thinks a lot of the surgeries she’s had most recently are due to it re-occurring in her joints.

    But the way she talks to me now is like she knows her time is getting close. She talked about re-potting some plants on Friday, saying that they only have to be done about once every 3-4 years….then she said, she’ll do them when they are done blooming, and then she’ll probably never do them again. She’s implied that in other ways before.

    She is fiercely independent – like your mom, yet is also quite dependent – because her vision isn’t what it used to be.

    My mom used to constantly complain about all our computers. Then she finally got one, enjoyed emailing with all her friends, but now, because of her vision, it’s hard again. She thinks it’s amazing what you can find on the computer….but her favorite is spider solitaire!


    I think people begin “rehearsing” the end of life years before it actually arrives. I find myself doing it now and then. For me, it takes the form of thinking, “Well, I’ve got maybe 20 good years left. What do I want to do with them?” Twenty years is nothing – and for someone past 80, it almost certainly includes the end of life. When we had the family together for Christmas this year, it was obvious to everyone it might be the last time.
    It’s a sad reality, but reality nonetheless.

    On the other hand, the losses that come along with long life seem to make it easier for some people to “let go”. The lady I referred to in my comment to Richard, above, used to talk about how distressing it was to have outlived every one of her friends and family. She used to laugh and say, “Be sure to keep making young friends, even if you can’t stand their music. At least you’ll have someone to go out to dinner with!” Good advice, I think.

    It must be so distressing to begin losing sight. Mine certainly isn’t what it used to be, and I don’t like to drive at night if I don’t have to. I don’t think I’d want to stand night watch on a boat now, either. As my dear great-aunt Rilla, the mistress of malapropisms used to say, “Tempus fidgits”!


  16. Now that my mother is old, I have discovered that she has done all kinds of things and been to all kinds of places that I never knew about at all! I was astonished to hear she had lived in a hut by the side of the sea in Malaya, and worked in Burma with survivors from the WW2 death camps. I hadn’t realised she and my dad had travelled armed from Iraq to Cairo during a time of insurgency, or that she had once been kidnapped in India. My astonishment as she has placidly recounted these and other events has been beyond description!

    So has my realisation that she liked travelling and enjoyed seeing new places. My father preferred a quiet life at home, and for as long as I can recall, Mum has seemed perfectly happy to lead a quiet and uneventful existence. (yeah, you know,her job was to look after us)

    After my dad became seriously ill, I gave her a couple of breaks from fulltime caring by taking her to the US and Canada. She adored Toronto and could have moved in to Disney World full time. During our two trips she was absolutely intrepid, even during one ghastly plane trip from London to Chicago which had a bomb scare, an emergency landing AND an unscheduled stop in Labrador as one passenger succumbed belatedly to the stress of the bomb scare and had a heart attack.

    She wouldn’t be a bit pleased if I posted her photo on my blog, and doesn’t really see why anyone should be interested in her life.

    I’m aware that it is probably only because she has reached an age when she has had time to talk, that I know these things at all.

    I wish now that I had asked my grandmothers and great aunts more, or written down what they said.


    As a child growing up, I always assumed that what I saw was the totality of my mother’s life. As years have passed and I’ve picked up little snippets here and there, I’ve been astonished by what I’ve learned, both good and bad. (And not just about my mother, I might add. Apparently some families really can keep secrets ~ and I’ve found one or two that were real doozies!)

    There are a couple of boxes of photos that need to be sorted through now, before even more of the family fades into oblivion. And there’s at least one story that really needs telling ~ convinced as I am that great-great-grandfather Crowley helped us out during our evacuation for Hurricane Rita. ;-)

    After the traveling and sailing I’ve done, and after my stint of living in Africa, I really don’t have the same urge to travel as some of my friends.
    I’m more than happy to sit and reflect, and restrict my traveling now to the places closer to home that I’ve neglected for so many years. And of course the necessity of mostly staying put to take care of mom is an issue. As things have worked out, overseas travel would be out of the question, for practical and financial reasons, so I’m glad I’ve already done it.

    Isn’t it funny that our moms think their lives uninteresting? What I find most interesting aren’t the specific experiences, but the way women who lived in a much more restrictive era were able to carve out meaningful and significant lives for themselves.

    Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing so much of your own mom’s story. It’s delightful.


  17. Linda:

    Your story about the lady who said she had no need to go to Houston reminds me of the story of the tourist who asked an old “Cape Coddah” at a cross roads which way he needed to turn to get to Chatham.

    “Don’t know,” the old man replied.

    “Well,” the tourist said, “the Cape’s a small place, and you can’t tell me how to get to Chatham? You ARE from here, aren’t you?”

    “Ay yah,” the old man said. “Born and raised.”

    “And you cant tell me how to get to Chatham. You must not have traveled very much.”

    “Oh,” the old man said, “been to China and Japan. Know the Molluccas and Singapore. Australia and New Zealand are fine, but nevah had no call to go to Chatham.”


    Exactly! And now I get to double my laughter by taking the story right over to one of my blog-friends who lives in – Chatham!


  18. Linda, I wonder if it is a matter of personality as to whether we think our own lives are interesting or not. Some people have had fascinating lives but prefer to move on without thinking back much; others are firmly convinced that their (fairly mundane) experiences are enthralling and love to remember them!


    You’re right – and sometimes we don’t recognize how interesting what we’re living might be, especially when we’re right in the middle of it.

    You touched on something I think’s key, and that’s the willingness to reflect on what we’ve lived. Reflection helps to turn life into a story, and stories always are more interesting than a “just the facts, ma’am” approach!


  19. Linda;

    I read this yesterday, but wanted to come back & read it again today while I had more time to savor the words. :-)

    It’s funny that no matter how grown up we get, we’re still our mother’s children and she’s still ‘Mom’. I got my first clue on this when one of my daughters was in grade school, and she had to do a little story about her mom ~ me.

    Now, I’ve worked on boats in one way or another pretty much all my life and have done lots of things, so imagine my surprise when my daughter brought home her story for my inspection and I read; “My Mom’s name is Beth. My Mom is short. My Mom cooks and cleans.” The story was also illustrated with drawings of me looking short and busily cooking and cleaning.

    At first I was surprised, but then amused as I realized that this is how she sees me and what she sees me doing when I’m home. There were occasions, though, when they would acknowledge that I did do more than ‘cook and clean’, when they would make mention that they knew I worked hard; sometimes I think that’s why I had such a painless experience with them while they were growing up. I think they were actually trying to make things easier for me. Wasn’t I a lucky mom?

    On that note, your mom is so lucky to have you close by. And I think it’s great that you two have one another. We need our bonds with our loved ones to keep us grounded in life, and even if there are a few bumps and jogs in family relationships, they’re probably the most important relationships we’ll ever have.

    Thanks for a wonderful read! :-)


    I still remember what a surprise it was when I discovered my mom had been a “Rosie the Riveter” and worked in an aircraft manufacturing plant during WWII. The thought of mom doing that kind of labor, toting a lunch pail and sitting around with her work chums telling stories (and perhaps even having a “cold one”!) was just more than my young mind could conceive. As the years have gone on, I’ve had to conceive a whole lot more. All of it’s contributed to one of the most difficult lifelong processes – getting enough distance from our parents to see them as people, too!

    It wouldn’t surprise me at all to know your kids tried to make life a little easier for you. Children are far more sensitive and insightful than we give them credit for, especially as they gain a few years. At two, of course it’s all about “me”. But by five, kids begin to show empathy for others, even in small ways. Blessed is the parent who gets some of that empathy!

    Mom and I are lucky ~ mostly that we came to terms with the fact that, like it or not, we were going to have to deal with one another! She didn’t want to move to Texas any more than I wanted her to. But that was so many years ago that we’ve both adjusted – the only thing she asks now is that I don’t, under any circumstances, bury her here. She guarantees a Stephen King-style haunting if that ever were to happen! ;-)

    So happy to have you stop by – if it ever stops raining again I’ll lay a little varnish in your honor!


  20. My goodness, did I love reading this – when I grow-up I want to be just like your Mom…. my sons inform me I’m heading in the right direction : )


    And when we were down in Galveston for her birthday brunch, we took a drive down the seawall. She looked out at the surfers (no, don’t get excited – this is Texas non-surf surf) and said, “You know, that might be fun, if I could swim.” I can just see the two of you surfing together ;-)


  21. This post, I believe, was a gift in itself — despite the firm rules for photo usage!

    How I loved this! Perhaps its because I said goodbye to my mother when she was the same age I am now and I was only 25, I smile big smiles when I think of celebrating such a day — fractured moments notwithstanding. The things she was able to see you experience in your life –the things she understood and those she no doubt didn’t. What a gift. And really, who is the giver and who is the givee? I’m not so sure!

    All I do know is that this is a divine tribute and one that so deeply resonates as I near the anniversary dates of my mom’s departure and a few weeks later, her birthday. Most divine.


    And best of all, we may be able to reclaim some of her history. There are going to be some documentary film-makers in Michigan, interviewing women who were involved in WW II work – Rosies-the-Riveters. Apparently the folks heading up the project are interested in finding more people who did such work, and Mom qualifies. She worked on aircraft in Rock Island, Illinois as a riveter. I’m going to be getting in touch with the film-makers this week – if nothing else, it would be great to get some of the stories from mom. We’ve just never taken the time to sit down and talk about those days, and this will be a good opportunity no matter what comes of it.

    I feel for you, losing your mom so early. I was in my early thirties when my dad died, and I miss him more every year. Strangely, I understand him better each year, too. Funny how that works.

    So many experiences are common to us all, and yet we never know until we share a bit. Makes it worthwhile, indeed.


  22. So each birthday your mom celebrates is a surprise and a gift. I used to love to listen to my dad talk with his sister and brother about the old days. We rarely went to Virginia to see them, but no matter how old they got – Auntie Sue lived the longest, to 92 I believe – they remembered specific dates and years as if those calendar boxes were as important as the events themselves.

    I truly get a sense of your mom from this post, so finely written, as always from you. I like knowing she doesn’t want her picture posted. I tend to think that someone who is 92 doesn’t care any more. But it is sweet that she does care.


    Vanity, thy name is Mama! She’s lovely, with pure white hair and barely a wrinkle, but she’s just convinced she looks 112. To the contrary, she looks better than some 70 year olds I know. Isn’t it interesting what any of us see when we look in the mirror.

    I’m always amazed by people who remember dates. I barely can, and always am adding or subtracting from something I do remember. There are times I have to do arithmetic to figure out my own age. But events, smells, colors and little details – I could go on forever. And sometimes do!


  23. I can thank Joe Perry for introducing me to your careful choice of words. My Mother is approaching 97, much older than she ever expected to live. It helps me to relate to this wonderful post. I am sorry your Mother has prohibited pictures. I would like to have seen what inspired you.

    Keep looking for the right word so I can keep reading them.

    Uncle Roger,

    Thank you so much for stopping by. I’ve met so many wonderful people through UP 844. It amazes and touches me how many communities exist in this country I’ve never suspected – railfans seem among the best.

    And what a wonder – that your own mom has achieved such age. I hope her health is good and that she’s still able to enjoy life. All of us slow down and begin limiting ourselves here and there – common sense dictates that. But there are some tough old birds still flying around out there, and they’re fun to watch!

    You’re welcome any time. Now that I’m back from “under cover” I can get with the business of word-searching again!


  24. The parallels: I’ll be 63 in July. My mother is having her ’90th almost as we speak.Sisters had some plan or other for celebration: Cruise to Alaska with this act? NOT! I do not live with her (T’anks God) but I was with her last week to assess the usabilty of a battery assisted trike. We ended up with more or less “top of the line” scooter.

    But the image of you and your mom across the table reminds me of my mother and I playing cribbage the other night: I won two out of three and boy did she hate to loose. (maybe that’s where I got it from)

    There is a clarity and value in their words. Mom took me in to the hospital when her mother was dying. Grandma W. got agitated and the message I took away was: She did not want her grandchild to see her in that condition. It is OK Granny. I hope my grandkids can say the same


    You’re so right when you say “there is a clarity and value in their words”. We ignore them at our peril.

    The ties between generations in our country have disintegrated so badly – or, perhaps better to say there is less and less support from society as a whole for those who want to honor the elderly and ensure their dignity.

    On the other hand – thinking about old people and dignity reminded me of the Lewis Carroll poem my grandfather used to recite to me: You Are Old, Father William. That’s one I haven’t remembered for a while!


  25. If only the authors of my son’s textbooks could write like you do, he might have an interest in learning about the world. You have a great skill for exploration, analysis, and storytelling. And it’s so much fun to ride along with you.


    I’m not sure the situation with textbooks differs at all from years gone by. When I think about what piqued my interest during my school years, I remember teachers, projects and “extra credit” books. All I remember of my text books is how heavy they were to carry to school. Of course, that probably helps to date me, too – even in high school, most of us walked to school, carrying our books in our arms. (No backpacks, yet!) But there wasn’t any snow, and we weren’t barefoot ;-)

    Thanks so very much for the complimentary words. I do love hearing a good story, and it makes me happy I’m learning a little about how to tell one.


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