She was the middle child of 11: 6 boys, 5 girls. Born to a poor family in a Oklahoma town so small she often told others she was from another small town. She told few stories about those times. Just that her mama always cooked enough to feed others and a woman they called Aunt John who helped with the kids.
She married at 16. I expect she was swept off her feet by a charming flirt, handsome in his Salvation Army uniform, himself just 20 and fresh out of seminary.
She’s turning 76 today but in her mind she is ageless. The cards she’ll get mean nothing to her but we’ll send them because she means something to us.
I suspect mama and daddy celebrated their birthdays when we were growing up though I never remember one. Not for them. She saw to it that my brother and I had birthday parties. My 13th was at the skating rink.
By my 14th they were divorced but she saw to it I had a party.
I’m surprised I even knew my parents birthday with their celebrations being absent. Maybe that’s how it was for their generation and how I carried it on in our home, mostly. The kids got the parties.
I was with mama on her birthday a few years ago. I think it was her 72nd. The dementia was apparent. We had pretty gift bags with colorful tissue. The bags were set in front of her but nothing. I picked one up and handed it to her and she held it and looked at me with a cocked head as if to say, what do you want me to do?
“It’s for you mama.” A smile.
I opened the bag, reached in and took out the nightgown to show her. Another smile, a curious one. She had no idea what was going on. That this was for her. This day was about her.
It’s worse now and I haven’t been out there in 2 years. Lisa sends pictures. They had a big celebration last year on her 75th. She liked the grandkids visit and smiled at the cake and colors not knowing they came to celebrate her.
This year, she’s sleeping a lot more. Content but tired and it’s okay because we’ll always celebrate mama. Celebrate her life, her faith, her example.
We’ll celebrate when we volunteer or listen to a stranger.
She’ll be celebrated when we drop our change in the red kettle at Christmas or when we send thank-you cards and remember our manners.
We celebrate her everyday because she lives in how we laugh loud and love quiet. She lives in our service, our worship, in our differences and our coming together.
Dementia may steal memories but it doesn’t have to steal our joy or the legacy she leaves.
Happy birthday, mama. Thank you for always pointing to the One greater than you because He is the One whose grace allows us to rejoice in the midst of your loss. He is our Hallelujah song.