I love Mother’s Day for many reasons, not the least of which is celebrating with my own perfect daughter. But I think it had to be that birthday party that started it all.
On April 28, 1965 Mom was turning 25. Naturally, we piled into the Rambler and rode over to her sister’s Concord home for the party.
Sweet Aunt Constance baked everyone’s cakes as a matter of course, in between volunteering for Cub Scout campouts, school sports and everything Girl Scouts-related. I remember hundreds of cookie boxes stacked along her living room walls. Oh, thin mints! That ball gown cake she baked me with a Barbie Doll in the middle of it is still a family legend, at least in my reveries.
So we pulled into the driveway that sunny day never suspecting our lives were about to change forever.
With the candles lit, Aunt Connie opened the dining room and everyone sang at the top of their lungs, “Happy Birthday, dear Mommy!” until Mom leaned over to blow them out and froze to the spot.
There was a hush. No one moved. The candles flickered.
Mom stared at the frosting and rosettes, unable to believe her eyes. The cake was neatly inscribed: Happy Quarter of a Century, Dear Judy!
You kind of have to know my Mom. She wasn’t a fussy woman, but she was strong and proud. She had eloped with Dad when she was 16, run off to England for a while, had me at 18, my sister at 21 and our brother at 23. Now, that day at age 25, she was a busy investigative reporter and so beautiful that even movie stars would flirt with her when she interviewed them. True story.
But seeing that congratulatory quarter-of-a-century on her cake struck a deep chord and though the party went gaily on, she never celebrated another birthday as long as she lived.
Imagine the impact on your life as a little kid. You live for those celebrations and rituals, doing it up as big as you can with your glue, glitter and construction-paper cards. Your crayons are sharpened, you’ve made your best-bestest drawings and picked a handful of flowers from the yard. You’ve been saving up coins to buy your Mom something so pretty she will surely be proud to wear it all day, even to work.
You know you’ll jump on her bed and smother her in birthday hugs until she hollers for help. Then it’s off to the park or some other really fun place with picnic tables and playgrounds. There will be cake and ice cream. Life is perfect.
Well, with birthdays off limits, we kids had to get really creative. Fortune favors the brave and fortunately for us, Mother’s Day was right around the corner every May! Hooray! We were saved.
From that time onward, we put our all into Mother’s Day. Not that we wouldn’t have already done so, but we just doubled up our efforts every second Sunday in May. With three of us, she was outnumbered and we could make as big a fuss over Mom as her heart could stand.
My favorite moments from all those times were when the revels were well underway. We were entertaining her with our lopsided cooking, homemade skits, songs and dance numbers and it was a blessing we could all sing on key. I’d stop my stage directing at some point and look over at her. Mom’s smile was the most beautiful sight in the world.
After she became a single mother, she used to tell us that she was an oak tree and if everything around her fell, she promised she would still be standing. We were her little acorns and she protected us during every storm.
She made sure we understood on a deep level that integrity matters. Be good, be kind, have empathy. Show compassion, she said. If someone was cruel to us, she’d talk about what unhappiness does to people and say, “How would you like to BE that person?”
She was deeply spiritual, connected on many levels and she raised us with wisdom.
“Be careful what you wish for in life,” she told us. “If people only truly understood the extent to which God grants them exactly what they ask for, they’d be much more careful about their wishes!”
The Golden Rule was everything. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. If she found us acting beneath ourselves, you can bet she busted us with a quick reminder that Karma would be around long after she wasn’t. It’s true, we really do reap what we sow in life.
When we lost Mom eight years ago, we were bereft and sank into waves of grief, wondering how life could ever be the same without her. It wasn’t. It still isn’t.
But we pulled ourselves together and held one big final celebration for Mother’s Day.
We gathered the family in Quincy, invited friends, and my sister christened the night “Momma-Palooza.” It was amazing.
Paper lanterns, crepe ribbons, balloons and holiday lights dangled from the patio cover. Candles sparkled everywhere and the food was delicious. Wine glasses tinkled and lights reflected off the large framed photos of Mom, her sister and her best friend, all in Heaven and now guests of honor here under the stars.
With grandchildren running around the deck, my brother and sister brought out their guitars and a cousin sat down to her drum. The music rose steadily and the singing went on into the night. It was a beautiful Lost Sierra evening and at one point, the world’s biggest, loveliest butterfly floated over our heads to land on the screen door. She stayed there a long time.
We said, “Hi, Mom. Your acorns miss you. Happy Mother’s Day!”