This is a love letter.
My mother recently celebrated her 90th birthday. We had a surprise celebration for her in the activity room at Seasons Retirement Community in Owen Sound where she now lives. I had quite a time making sure it was a surprise, between putting out a public invitation to other residents at Seasons without Mom finding out, to making sure she wasn’t around when her three grown granddaughters arrived early to set up for the party.When I brought her back to the building from having coffee at the nearby Tims this past New Year’s Day, lo and behold there was a poster-sized photo of her set up beside the elevators. A small group of residents were gathered nearby and one fortunately had the presence of mind to turn the photo-bearing easel around to avoid tipping Mom off that something was up. Still, she caught a brief glimpse of it, enough that she had seen it was a photo of someone, and that someone sure looked like her.
“What was that?” she asked as we got into the elevator to go back up to her suite. “It looked like me. What’s going on?”
I lied, and not for the first time in the few days before the party, when I put on my best straight face and looked like I didn’t know nuthin. “I don’t know, Mom. I didn’t see anything.”
My Mom may be 90 now, but her elevator still goes all the way to the top, if you know what I mean, and then some; so she wasn’t about to admit she had been seeing things. “I’m sure I saw a photo, and it looked like me,” she insisted.
I let on I was fumbling around with the elevator buttons. I didn’t dare look at her, for fear I’d give the game away; I’m a really bad liar at the best of times, which may be part of the reason why I seldom do it. (Anyway, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.)
“Mom,” I said, feigning a little irritation, “I don’t know. I didn’t see anything.”
And that was that, for the moment.
It was getting on to 2 pm, when her birthday party was due to start. She thought my partner and I were taking her out to a lunch “somewhere nice” for her birthday.
“So much coming and going,” she said, as she combed her hair and put on a different set of earrings, and I kept looking at my watch. “Something’s going on. What’s going on?”
And then some minutes later, when I apparently pushed the wrong button on the elevator again, to take us to the activity room floor, rather than to the lobby, Mom’s antennae were really up. But fortunately moments later the door opened to the sight of a large gathering of granddaughters, great grandchildren, cherished nephews who had driven a long way for this special event, long-time friends, and her many new ones at Seasons.
Mom’s surprise and her delight was complete. My cousins Bud and Harold, sons of Mom’s late and beloved sister Clara, got huge “Aunt Bea” hugs and a joyful, “it’s so good to see you” greeting so full of love that it was a wonder to behold.
There were more surprises to Mom’s 90th birthday than this party. She has said many times in the past few weeks, and she’s said it again on New Year’s Day, that she’s surprised she “made it to 90.” I suppose that’s no wonder, considering she was told by a doctor when she was 35 that she probably wouldn’t live another five years. That was after the last of several serious operations. Once, she was expected to die and a priest was called and arrived to give her the last rites. Mom’s not Roman Catholic, but he happened to be the clergyman on duty that night, I gather.
No offence to him or his church, but I suspect that experience may have roused Mom’s formidable will-to-live to a renewed level of defiance. By morning she had made a remarkable recovery. She lived to celebrate the birth of three beautiful granddaughters, six lovely and talented great granddaughters, and a great grandson, Daniel. And in a few days she will celebrate the birth of a great, great grandchild.
Mom has been with me to celebrate my finding of my long-lost brother and sister, Susan and David, in the U.S. They are the children of my late father’s second marriage to a woman now also deceased. But Mom was as happy to meet them, and as happy for me, as if they were her own. She was just as happy and delighted when I told her just a month ago that I had also found my brother Brian in England, born shortly after my father left there after serving in the U.K during the Second World War.
There may be a hint in what I’ve said above that Mom’s life has not been an easy one. That’s putting it mildly. Suffice it to say, she has faced and overcome more than enough adversity and challenges, ever since the moment of her birth, at the stroke of Midnight, New Years’ Eve, 1920, to make a dozen lives, shall we say, interesting.
That she is the wonderful, warm, friendly, and cheerful person she is, is a testament to my Mom’s strength of character and spirit.
Mom, I hope you know now more than ever how much you are loved and appreciated for the special person you are, and needed too, for as long as you can possibly be with us.
You light up our world.
Many happy returns.
Originally published in The Sun Times in 2011.