This was mom’s Birthday week. Had she continued to walk on this earth she’d have celebrated 86 birthdays. She was 24 when I was born and 32 when the sixth child arrived. She could sing alto in the choir, work in the school cafeteria, dance in front of the TV, create feather flowers with the neighbors, drove the get-away car while we papered houses, and we could hear her calling at 9 pm, three blocks away. I’ve been thinking a lot about her this week.
I know my mom baked birthday cakes for us every year… I just don’t remember them. Not even one. She was a cook, when she worked and I’ve seen pictures of me with siblings standing around a cake or two.
I had two childhood parties for my birthday. The first, no one but my grandmother and family came (which was a crowd). I waited for friends, but honestly, I can’t remember if I invited them. Daddy had just poured a new sidewalk next to the porch and I took great care to draw a hopscotch game for the party. I found the flattest rocks in the backyard and smoothed them with water to use as a puck. I wore red shorts and played barefoot for hours hoping they’d come. It was thirteen days before Christmas and it was an unusually warm day in Texas. My sister told me to quit waiting because we ‘had built-in friends’ and we didn’t need them to have a party. I was 10.
Five years later, the second party was great! I had begged to have one at night. I was a member of the drill team, student council and choir at school, youth choir, Sunday School, and the Girl’s Auxiliary at church. I had close friends who lived near, or whose parents would drive them. Our home was tiny. Mom moved all the furniture around to give us a dance floor. My brother loaned me his black light posters and stereo. My sisters helped remove the pictures from the walls and hang the posters. In retrospect, I can’t believe she let us go to such redecorating lengths. We bought records that I loved with the money Grandpa gave me and my friends brought some, too. We had chips, dips and rice treats, Dr Pepper and Birthday Cake… it was store bought and decorated. I thought it was the best! We danced, laughed and the crowd spilled out to the front yard where a few innocent kisses were stolen while we whispered secrets to each other.
After most of the kids left, mom took my two stay-over guests and I out to play a little more. We gathered the pink toilet paper and blessed some unsuspecting acquaintances with being popular! It was an honor to be ‘papered’, ya know. Mom had a great arm… she could throw that roll over the highest tree or roof. I can still hear Daddy now… ‘Peggy, you’re going to pay the fine if you get caught’. She just smiled as we went out the door. We drove down the main city streets, vacant and inviting at midnight in the suburbs. She slows the car just enough to let the lights turn red. Someone yells ‘Chinese Fire Drill’ and everyone jumps out and must circle the car, and jump back in before the light changed. Giggles, trips and falls… after three or four of those, we were worn out and ready for sleep on the pallets prepared for us while we were gone. It was a wonderful Saturday night and Sunday morning was church day and we couldn’t possibly be late! First… off to our friends to help clean the yard! We wanted to stay friends … and we wanted their Dad to welcome us again! So up early… lots to do!
When I turned 40, Mom and Daddy drove 45 minutes to decorate the door of my downtown business with a big handmade sign (Lordy, Lordy, Look Who’s Forty), placed a baby picture ad in my town’s weekly paper and delivered a home baked cake to my office. I arrived at work to find that sign and knew it was her doing. I was so glad they took time away from the daily fishing trip to join me for lunch. It was a great party.
Mom knew how to have a great party. Not the fancy kind with pretty glasses and silver, but the kind that touched you where it counted. In your heart.
My mother taught and lived this: everyone matters. It wasn’t some slogan, it was real. All six of us knew we mattered. Everything is not perfect when the family is large and simple. What matters is that she and Daddy grew a family and it is beautiful. Mom was the heart of our family and taught us to remember that the heart matters when it’s about living better!