Friday, July 2, 2010

I can't believe my baby will be 40.

Today is my 56th birthday.

I'm not telling you that because I want you to wish me a happy birthday, {you can, if you want --- tee hee} I'm telling you this because it gives me pause.

How did I get to be 56?

When my mother was 56, I was twenty years old. See picture at right -- that's Momma, Daddy, brother Ken and I in front of my brother's VW. Man, it captures the time.

My birthday always reminds me of my mother (go figure) and a conversation we had just a couple of months before she died.

She died of a brain tumor in May of 1995, on Memorial Day; she was 76 years old -- I would turn 40 in July of that year.

The last eleven days of my mother's life were spent in a nursing home where she slowly slipped away. Those days and hours were pretty grim -- since she had a living will, she had laid it out pretty clearly that she wanted no interference in keeping her alive through artificial means.

At the end of her life, she was incapable of communicating with us. She opened her eyes and looked around, but she made no indication she knew us -- and seemed unaware of where she was. She mostly slept.

We had no idea what she understood, how she felt, or what she wanted. After suffering a stroke, she could not move her left side or talk or write. Her strict instructions were hard, but we honored her wishes.

I held her hand a lot those last days, recited to her the 23rd Psalm, and told her how much I loved her and how she was the best mother.

Still going to work each day but going to see her for long visits each night, I also told her stories of my work as a high school English teacher, mostly funny stories. She never laughed, but she looked deeply at my face as I told them.

I told her about Daddy who was incapable of coming to see her, as he was suffering from the complications of open-heart surgery and congestive heart failure. He had moved in with my sister, who took care of him, but he was on his last days. In fact, Daddy only lived 62 days after mother.

Sad. I know, but knowing the end was coming for both of them was more of a blessing than a curse -- I got to tell her all those things, as well as hang out that summer a lot with Daddy before he died the first of August.

For the last fifteen years, when July rolls around, and my birthday comes up yet again, I think about the stories I was told as a child about my birthday.

In 1954, my parents lived in Jacksonville, Florida -- a move that they had made about fifteen months before. They had received the news that they were to move yet again -- and Daddy was needed asap to his new job in Atlanta. My mother was in the last weeks of her pregnancy with me, but they wished to birth me before they moved.

I guess I was "ripe" enough?

The doctor agreed to induce her, and they set up the appointment. The doctor suggested the 4th of July, but my mother did not wish for me to share my birthday with a national holiday -- so they picked the 3rd instead.

Ta da... I was born. Yay!!!

What does this have to do with anything? Not much, but on my birthday each year, I also think about one of the last coherent conversations I had with my mother.

It was March of 1995. I had taken mother to her neurologist, for she had some small strokes, called TIAs. For the last year, mother had been taken care of Daddy, who had a second heart surgery, and was not responding as we had hoped. In fact, we had all been told in January that Daddy had about six months to live. He needed full-time care, but she wore herself out trying to do most of the care herself.

Her neurologist declared mother in good shape as he asked her about her "forgetfulness," but she passed all the tests administered in his office with flying colors. I had gone along to be another pair of ears and to navigate the rather challenging drive through traffic to the doctor's office. My daddy hated for mother to drive on the ever crazy Georgia 400 and then I-285 east from Roswell to Dekalb General to her neurologist office.

On the way home, we stopped by a restaurant at Perimeter Mall called Mix -- she had a salad and I had a portobella mushroom sandwich (a mushroom I can't eat anymore because I have sad associations with it -- pathetic, I know -- LOL -- weird, how I feel that way) and mother and I chatted about a lot of things -- family, our concern over daddy, my job which she thought I was so good at but worked too hard, her grandchildren, and then the fact that I was about to turn 40 in July.

Mother: I can't believe my baby will be 40.
Me: I can't believe it either.
Mother: I remember the day you were born and your older brother Hunter went around to all the neighbors in Jacksonville and told them that I had gone to the hospital to get Kenneth, a Margaret. ( I am the youngest of four --- oldest brother Hunter, then sister Margaret, brother Kenneth, and then me.)
Me: I'm so much better than Margaret.
Mother: It was such a cute story, and I smile about it every time. I have had such a good life -- a wonderful marriage -- I have four great kids, eight grand-children -- my life is full of blessings. Now, my baby is 40. I am old.

I remember how much we laughed about my being 40, and all the jokes that went along with it -- and how she worried about Daddy's health and how he might not see his grand children grow old.

Ironically, she died two months later of a brain tumor.

I can't have my birthday without thinking about my mother and that conversation.

Birthdays are wonderful things -- I always want to have them. As I grow older, perhaps a tad bit more introspective, [as my friend Laura would say, "ya think?"], I find myself with the time to consider, acknowledge, and give credit to my parents for raising us -- and raising us well. '

Well, at least, that's what I think, and when I think about the past, that's all that matters. I am proud to say that I had a great childhood.

No stints on Oprah for me -- unless, she wants to declare my blog -- worthy.



  1. So sweet! Your parents must have been remarkable! Happy birthday!

  2. This was so bittersweet! Pretty tender that your mama picked your birthday, though. Happy birthday to one of the very best teachers I ever had!

  3. This post made me cry. I still can vividly remember(for being 10) 1995 and everything that transpired that year. I always think of Grandma on my birthday too. Every year we had joint celebrations for Grandma, Nora, and me. These are truly special memories for me. I was very fortunate to grow up so close to Grandma and Grandpa. I cherish this memories of the times spent with them. I can only hope that my cousins remember time spent with them as fondly as I do. Thank you for posting.


  4. That was lovely. I'm lucky enough to still have my mother but my father passed just after I turned 18 and my birthday, also in July ;-), always brings thoughts of him. Some good, some not, but the older I get, the more I appreciate them all.

    Happy birthday, a couple of days late, but no less sincere.


  5. I just emailed wishing you a happy birthday...but I was a few days late. Am glad to have read your blog to get myself corrected. It was a lovely tribute to your mom.

    Much love to you!

  6. 當一個人內心能容納兩樣相互衝突的東西,這個人便開始變得有價值了。............................................................

  7. This is off-topic, but I thought you might like this:

  8. Happy Birthday to you.

    What a beautiful story here.
    So much lovely emotion and truth and I totally get the mushroom and the fact that you can't eat it anymore.

    Thanks so much for sharing this with us.

  9. I enjoyed the pictures and your memories of your mother so much. Thanks for posting. I cannot believe that your parents have been gone for 15 years! I miss them too.

  10. Hi Harriet, I just read this post about your wonderful parents. How great that you can remember that conversation so vividly. Memories are so wonderful....I too celebrate every one of my Birthdays, after all it is an important occasion, although my Mom has it down to an art, she stretches them over two weeks! I am so blessed to still have her (and my Dad as well) I am sure you miss them very much....but what a sweet reunion you will have! Lori