Mom, Me and Jack Daniels

   Yesterday, my cousin Mark sent a very sweet email to our family in remembrance of my mother.  Her birthday was January 7th- one day after her mother’s, my Grammie Dow.  Because my birthday is also in January, my mother and Grammie told me I was special like them.  I believed them and to this day, January is my favorite month.
   To celebrate our January birthdays, my mother and I often “split” a gift.  We took each other out for lunch to celebrate.  In reality, it was just an excuse to sit across a restaurant table and catch up, but it was a nice way to give each other a small gift.  Mark’s email reminded me of how much I miss sharing that birthday lunch, and also reminded me of how I have chosen to celebrate my mother’s life on her birthday.
jack daniels   A week or two before my mother passed away, my nephew Jason brought a small bottle of whiskey to her at the hospice house.  She liked whiskey, and when I was growing up, she and my father often would enjoy a drink before dinner.  My father drank Jim Beam or Jack Daniels on the rocks with soda and my mother drank hers with water.  I never understood how they could drink the stuff.  To me it tastes like medicine, and the only time I could swallow it was when my father mixed a teaspoon with honey and lemon to quiet my coughs.
   It was against the rules to have alcohol in the hospice house (I guess they were afraid that dying people might get drunk and rowdy) and the nurses asked me to take the bottle with me when I left for the evening. I took it to my house and stuck it in the cabinet.
   After Mom died, I decided to drink a toast to her on her birthday, and on January 7, alone in my kitchen, I poured a shot (more like a half shot) of the whiskey and after toasting her, drank the entire thing down in one swallow.  I shuddered for almost fifteen minutes, and while I can’t say I enjoyed it, the warmth that followed the shudder made it tolerable.
   Last year on Mom’s birthday, I did the same thing, with the same reaction of shuddering for a good  fifteen minutes.  Maybe it was the whiskey, but I imagined that I could hear her chuckle at me.  I have to admit that I imagined the warmth that spread from my stomach to my toes was more a hug from my mother than a blast of alcohol.
   You would think that after two years, I would be used missing my mother, but I am not. Not a day goes by that I do not think of her- miss her soft gray eyes and warm embrace.  I see her in my children.  I see her in myself.  But when I feel  my eyes become hot with tears and my heart wrings with loneliness, I remember her last hours.  As she hovered between this life and the next, I saw her exert great effort to raise her arms toward Heaven.  Again and again, she would raise her hands to the sky and then, not strong enough to hold them up, she allowed them to drop to her bed.  I knew that she was transitioning- that her eyes were no longer set on earth and her loved ones here, but instead on the God who had steadfastly guided her through the past eighty-two years.  And as much as I wanted to call her back and beg her to stay a few more hours, I could not.  She had taught me well.  Part of loving is letting go.
   The bottle of whiskey still remains in my cupboard, untouched since January 7, 2012.  Tonight I will again pour a half shot (guess I will never be much of a drinker) and toast my mother, and her mother. Heck- I’ll toast all our mothers, since they are more alike than different.  Perhaps you will join me.  Pour a shot- whiskey, wine, rum…even milk.  It doesn’t matter.  Raise your glass, think of your mother and thank God for the time you had with her.  If you shudder like I will, and listen very carefully, you might hear a tinkle of laughter from on high. That’s Grammie and Mom, waiting for the rest of us.

You’re How Old?

This past Monday was my birthday.  I have now lived 696 months. That is 3,027 weeks or 21,184 days old, which comes to 508,429 hours or 30,505,767 minutes or 1,830,346,077 seconds.  Those of you who love to do math have already figured out how many years I’ve lived.  Sorry, but I’m not going to make it easy for the rest of you.

So if I’m so old, how come I don’t feel old?  How come every time I look in the mirror I am surprised to see someone who looks like she should be my mother staring back at me?  It is true that I could have given birth to practically everyone who walks the red carpet, just like it is true that I remember when television was black and white and records were played on a  hi-fi, and the milk man left glass bottles of milk on the back steps.  But I still feel young.  Like somewhere around nineteen.

When I was nineteen I was in college.  I wore the university uniform of blue jeans, body stockings and Earth shoes.  My locks hung past my shoulders and I never wore makeup because I didn’t need it.  I was skinny- less than 120 pounds, even though I am over five feet, eight inches tall.  I could quote Shakespeare and Chaucer, eat pizza at midnight without getting heartburn, and sing notes as high as Joni Mitchell.

When I was nineteen, I sang with my friend Mary.  I would weave silver threads of harmony around her strong golden melodies and together we would entertain long-haired audiences who filled the local bars and coffee houses.   Our music was simple- acoustic and eclectic- and we would cover tunes by The Beatles, Donovan and Judy Collins.  We practiced in lobby of our dorm, our notes tripping down the steel stairwells, and echoing against the cement walls.  We sang for beers and tips and the thrill of hearing the crowd grow quiet when the guitar strummed the opening chords.  We sang because with a few notes, we could wear our hearts on our sleeves.  With a few notes, we could tell a story that would bring a laugh, or bring a tear.  With a few notes, we shared our diaries with those who listened, and by listening, they shared theirs with us.  With a few notes, term papers and tuition were forgotten and the world was as one- just for a few moments.

But I am not nineteen any longer. Although I still wear jeans, I have not owned Earth shoes or a body stocking since 1978.  My fingers are too arthritic to hold down the strings on a guitar, and my throat strains to hit the high notes. These days, I don’t sing in bars and coffee houses.  I sing with the radio in my car and although I can still layer harmonies over melodies, I know my days of singing before an audience are over.  But I still have a need to reach others- to bind us together with those things we all hold in common; love, fear, joy, sorrow.  Words on pages have replaced lyrics set to music.  Instead of sharing songs about lives I have never lived, I write about years I remember.  Days I have endured.  Moments I have cherished.  People I have loved.

Lest you think this story is a sad one, let me remind you that there are perks associated with aging.   Now, when I do something foolish, people hug me and call me “cute” instead of pretending they don’t know me.  If I try to carry anything heavy, or climb on top of a chair to change a light bulb, my kids freak out and take over the task for me.   I like this so much, I may start groaning whenever I have to clean the toilet or empty the trash, in hopes that they’ll take over those chores for me as well.

Younger people think I am old, but older people (and yes, there are people who are older than I) still think I am young.  In fact this morning on the elevator, a white-haired gentleman called me “young lady.”  Perhaps he is right.  After all, I’m only a little over eight years old… in dog years.

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