Looking Forward, Looking Back

Today is my birthday.  My friends gave a surprise birthday party for me, something I’ve never had before!  It was so much fun and truly a surprise.  My sisters have another celebration waiting for me, which will happen next weekend.  And I’m going out with friends tonight, so the party keeps going.

I’ve been thinking about this birthday because it’s older than I ever thought I would be, in my smug youth, and because I realized I’m not much younger than my mother was in thisMother and Me Daytona 1981 picture.  I thought she was so old then!  And now it seems just another stage to me.

I think the big difference may be health.  Mother had a couple of heart attacks which were not diagnosed at the time, and when this photo was taken she was in the early stages of heart failure.  We didn’t know, of course.  I had driven to Tennessee from Atlanta to get her, and we drove down to St. Augustine and Daytona Beach.  Mother had never been to Florida and never seen the ocean.  This was after Labor Day, in early September, 1981, so the summer crowds were gone, and she enjoyed sitting on the beach at Daytona talking to “snowbirds” who were around her age.

I took her to Sea World, and she could barely walk from one show or exhibit to the next.  She was exhausted all the time.  When I got her back home, I called one of my sisters and said, “Something’s wrong with Mother.”  Glenda took her to a different doctor, and the damage was diagnosed.  I’ve been conscious of how heart disease affects women, particularly women in my family, ever since.  Heaven knows I don’t do as much as I could to stay healthy, but I do try.  And I think I’ve had much better medical care than she did.

Another difference from my mother is purely cosmetic–thanks to every colorist I’ve gone to for years, my gray goes away!  I have to keep working, and I want to keep working, so I can’t afford to go gray.  Sad, but true.

Mother thought of herself as “old” from a relatively young age.  I remember her telling me she was old when I was about 12, so she would have been 50!  Standards were different in her day.

I do think we all pursue continued youth too hard sometimes in this day and age.  Things do change, we do slow down a bit, we do get tired more easily.  But we don’t have to stop.  As long as our health holds up, my friends are active and interested and still engaged with the world.  I plan to be, too.



Tuesday’s Child?

Mother Goose building in Hazard, KY
Mother Goose building in Hazard, KY

Do you recall that old Mother Goose rhyme?

Monday’s child is fair of face

Tuesday’s child is full of grace

Wednesday’s child is full of woe

Thursday’s child has far to go

Friday’s child is loving and giving

Saturday’s child works hard for a living

But the child that is born on the Sabbath day

Is bonny and blithe, and good and gay.

I was born on a Tuesday, and I spent many years wondering why I wasn’t a dancer, or able to walk on a balance beam without falling off.  It was a long time before I learned the rhyme might have meant a different kind of grace.  According to Merriam Webster, there are a lot of possibilities:

  1. Unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration or sanctification
  2. A virtue coming from God
  3. A state of sanctification enjoyed through divine grace
  4. Approval, favor
  5. Charming or attractive trait or characteristic
  6. A pleasing appearance or effect
  7. Ease and suppleness of movement or bearing
  8. Used as a title of address or reference for a duke, a duchess, or an archbishop
  9. A short prayer at a meal asking a blessing or giving thanks
  10. Sense of propriety or right <had the grace not to run for elective office  — Calvin Trillin>

I have decided my favorite one is #8.  Just address me as “Your Grace,” and all will be well.

So, my friends, which day of the week marked your birth?  Let me know.  In case you don’t know, here’s a fun website that will calculate it for you.  And I hope you aren’t full of woe.


Somebody’s Princess

While I was getting my nails done today (big, once-a-month treat) a young woman came in with her daughter.  The little girl was wearing a special dress with a velvet sleeveless top and a longish skirt of lace and pink taffeta (“Target,” her mom said when I asked), and her hair was pulled up in a ballerina’s bun on top of her head.  “It’s her birthday today, so she would like her nails polished, please,” her mom said.  The Korean nail ladies made a fuss over her and asked how old she was.  “Six, today,” she said.

For some reason this made me remember being taken to the beauty salon in Clarksville by my sister Juanita.  I don’t remember if I had been before, but I was entranced by the whole experience.  The beautician trimmed my bangs while Juanita was getting a proper ’60s haircut and styling–no blow dryers back then!  Rollers and pin curls and those dryers with big metal bonnets were the norm, and the smells were strong with perfume.

I had been admitted to a world where you were pampered and made beautiful.  And I had no doubt at all that I was beautiful!  The finishing touch was a hairpin with a large fake diamond, which the beautician used to help keep the stray hairs from my ponytail in place.  I was thrilled.

I still feel pampered and treated when I go to the salon now.  I’m no longer convinced I’m beautiful, alas.  The face in the mirror doesn’t look like it did.  But it’s still nice to come out looking better than when you went in, and to feel taken care of for an hour or two.  I hope all little girls get the chance to feel special that way, at some point before the pains of growing up set in.

Culinary Disaster by Act of God

Photo by Ghering Family
When I was in high school I took cooking as a challenge, particularly baking.  I was much more ambitious then than I am now.  There’s nothing like energy and not knowing how hard something is to get one into a project.  The kitchen was Mother’s domain, and she rarely allowed me to do much besides stir vegetables or see if the fried chicken was ready to turn.  But she had taught me how to bake desserts.

So I decided to bake a white cake from scratch for Mother’s birthday, a three-layer cake which I planned to decorate.  For those of you who haven’t done this, you have to separate several eggs, i.e., separate the whites from the yolks, without piercing the yolk, in order to make a white cake.

I set to work in the kitchen of our house on the farm, sifting flour, separating the eggs, creaming butter and sugar.  Glancing out the window over the dining table, I saw thunderclouds gathering, but that was nothing unusual for July 5 in Tennessee.  I poured the batter into the cake pans and put the pans in the electric oven, feeling a trifle smug.

I don’t remember what I did after that–probably I lounged around in my cutoff jeans and read a book, which was what I usually did on a summer day that was not promising for tanning.  Then without warning the sky turned an odd greenish-black, growing darker and darker, and the power went out.  Mother and I went in the garage since it only had one window and waited for the storm to go through.  My dog Dusty whined to come in, so Mother let him in the garage, a rare treat for him.

The storm blew through quickly.  We learned afterward that a tornado went through a couple of miles away.  After about 15 or 20 minutes the power came back on.  I reset the timer for the oven and watched the cake pans anxiously.  But it was no good.  The cake layers had fallen when the power went out, and no further heat could save them.  Each layer was about a half-inch thick, dense and rubbery.

“I’ll bake you another one,” I said to Mother.  “Do something simpler this time,” she said.  I threw two of the layers in the trash and took the third one out back to give to Dusty.

Dusty looked at the cake layer, and looked at me.  He looked at the cake again, looked at me, and wagged his tail.  Then he picked up the fallen cake, carried it out in the field, and buried it.  It would be a very rainy day before he dug that up.

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