Mama, 75 Years Old

Today is my Mama’s 75th birthday.

Her name is Priscilla. The second of nine born to a mill village worker and his beloved wife in 1942 era Winnsboro, SC. The United States had just entered World War 2. Pearl Harbor was bombed when Mama was in utero. Her earliest childhood memories involve air raid sirens, Hopalong Cassidy on the dime store TV display, walking 6 miles to church and doctors with black bags making house calls.

She goes by “Cill”. Her sisters call her cilly and sissy. Her four grandchildren call her Grammy. Occasionally when we are having a row, I’ll call her Mommy Dearest. That makes her laugh and she threatens to beat me with wire hangers. Old film buffs will understand.

She suffers from Meniere’s Disease and Vertigo, the same ear condition that is rumored to have propelled Vincent Van Gogh to cut his own ear off. As a child I remember watching her fall to the floor when a dizzy spell struck her while she was washing dishes. I remember my dad picking her up, cradling her like a baby, carrying her to bed. And she’s a breast cancer / mastectomy survivor. On occasion, unfairness of life will slap us in the face. Watching my mama go through hospital after hospital stay reeks of unfairness. Cancer rains on both the good and bad alike. The past few years she has also developed osteoporosis and macular degeneration, a degenerative eye condition that slowly blinds from the center out.

She’s been married twice, but only had one child. Me. She had already lived a full 40 years old by the time I accidentally showed up.

Deciding to make the best of her new role as mama, she decided that Time was her best offering. So she stayed home with me. She read to me. Night after night. Story after story after story. My first memories are of snuggling with her listening to her read. Every day after school, promptly at 4:00 pm she would have a homemade meal on the table for the three of us. Her specialties were spaghetti, vegetable soup, salmon stew, baked chicken, garlic biscuits, and sweet tea.

She’s never been on Facebook but she still never ever forgets someone’s birthday. And family ties are blood oaths in her mind. Family means everything. During my lifetime I’ve watched her lose her mama, numerous cousins, her brother, brother-in-law, and most recently, a sister. Watching the giants in our lives crumble under the weight of age, life progression and loss can be profoundly debilitating.

How do we support those who have always been the ones to hold us up?

Tonight we brought her favorites -pecan pie, banana popsicles and ice cream- over to her house to celebrate. When we arrived at her house, her sister Mae was just leaving. And a while later her brother arrived with a watermelon and bouquet of flowers.

“They’re very bright with a whole lot of colors so I figured you could see these easily!” her brother said to her.

How wonderful it is to have a sister and brother who can drop in on your 75th birthday!

Often, growing up as an only child, I found myself desperately wishing for a older brother or a twin sister.

But never once have I wished for a different mama. I love her dearly.