Monday, December 5, 2011

Happy Birthday, Mama!

Today my Mama (or Mawmaw, for those of you in extreme southern states), my dad's mom, is celebrating her 90th birthday. And it seems that at 90 years old, there is so much that deserves celebrating. She survived the Depression. And childbirth. And a life married to an old grump. And then his death. And then life on her own. She could celebrate three children, nine grandchildren, and fifteen great grandchildren that love her. And having a sound, clear mind, even though the rest of her isn't always in prime condition. Having a reasonable amount of hair and mostly her own teeth. Lots to celebrate. And yet, there was no real party. Just a nursing home cafeteria lunch and some balloons and a note taped to her door announcing her big day.

My mom, dad, my brother Craig, my niece Reagan, and I loaded up this morning to head out to see her. It was a long drive from my home in The Colony to my parents' house in Grand Prairie, and an even longer drive to Conroe. And the truth is, I considered not going. The weather has been rainy and gross, and yesterday was busy and exhausting. I was tired.  But family is important, and grandmothers only turn 90 once, so I made the decision to go. And I am so thankful I did.

We brought my guitar because the O'Dell family doesn't go anywhere without being prepared to sing a little something. We found Mama sitting in her wheelchair in the hallway in a red housedress, her silver hair looking a little frizzy from the humidity outside (thanks for the frizzy, gray-haired genes, by the way). She cried when she saw us, either from relief that we came or to make us feel guilty that she has to live there. I would not be surprised by either.

We wheeled her into the front lobby of the nursing home and we sat amongst the tacky Christmas decorations and watched her struggle to unwrap birthday presents and cards. I reached over several times to help her tear off tape and ribbon and thought about how thirty plus years ago, she probably did the same for me. We talked family and life and we all repeated ourselves three or four times to be understood. She asked me if I still had a good husband, and I laughed. Yes. Yes I do. My aunt and uncle joined us, and I took out my guitar and we sang hymns and other old songs, some very badly and some only partially because we couldn't remember the words. That's what happens after 30. Your mind gets all full up. There's only so much room up there. But every now and then, on a familiar one, I would see Mama's mouth moving, and I occasionally heard her scratchy singing voice over the sound of the guitar.

And then came the inevitable. We had to go. The four hour drive back to Dallas was looming before us, and Mama probably needed a nap before dinner. So we wheeled her back to her room, and I made a silent note to myself to exercise more so that I can be one of those old people that walks three miles a day instead of one that requires a wheelchair. We sang a few final songs for Mama and her roommate Ruby. We took a few pictures, cried a little, and said goodbye. There is always that uneasy feeling of finality in those kinds of goodbyes. The knowing that this could be the last time we sit and talk. The last time for a goodbye hug.

And even though I am sad, today isn't about being sad. It's not about goodbyes. Today is about celebrating the life of a woman who invested in the lives of her grandkids. It's about playing dominoes at her kitchen table. About standing on her little kitchen stool to cut out homemade biscuits. It's about playing outside with Craig and Kari on the rolling cart reserved for wheeling the trash cans to the curb on trash day, but knowing that Mama wouldn't mind (even though Papa definitely would mind). It's about days spent with her as she worked at the dry cleaners with her magic moving clothes rack. It's about a lifetime of cooking and cleaning and telling stories and dancing for your grandchildren to make them laugh.

She has been saying that it's her time to go for twenty or so years. And yet here she is. It's not her time. Not yet. And so long as she is healthy and not in pain, I am happy that she is here. So happy birthday, Mama. We love you very much. I hope to see you again soon.

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1 comment:

  1. You made me cry but I'm so glad that you are blessed with a wonderful grandmother! Take care my friend!



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