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Happy Birthday Grandmother!

Happy birthday to the woman who raised Husband! As she celebrates her 90th birthday, I honor my mother-in-law.

Recently, four Grands and I visited Ann, whom we call Grandmother. We asked questions. Where were you born? How many siblings did you have? Did you have to do chores? What did you do for fun?

Born on October 1927, Anna Love and her twin sister, Billie Dove, were the 7th and 8th children of twelve born to Kate and Dock Powell. They were born at home, in Bon Air, White County, Tennessee. Two younger siblings died before their first birthday. Their father worked in the local coalmines and their mother took care of the house, raised the children, cooked, gardened, and sewed the family’s clothes. “When a baby was born, Aunt Annie, Mama’s sister, came to stay with us and helped,” Grandmother said.

“With all those kids maybe she should have stayed all the time,” one of my Grands said. Grandmother laughed and explained that everyone, even the youngest kids helped.

“Let me tell you one of mine and Bill’s jobs,” Ann said. “You know how a hen sets on eggs to hatch chickens? Well, when it rained really hard, the mother hen would get her chicks under her. She spread her wings wide and gathered them. But sometimes, the chicks would drown because they’d be in a low place in the yard and a puddle would form. So we had to get the little chicks out from under the hens and put them in a dry place.”

“We didn’t have bicycles and toys and everything like you do,” Grandmother said. “We played ball and hopscotch. I saved a piece of glass for hopscotch.”

“Glass? A sharp piece of glass?” a Grand asked.

“No, a big piece that had smooth edges. It was just right for hopscotch.” Grandmother told about playing in the creek in the springtime. She and her sisters took their shoes off even though their mother told them not get wet. To avoid spankings, the girls didn’t go home until they were dry.

When asked about Christmas presents, Grandmother remembered that her mother made a little couch and two chairs and hid them under quilts. She and Bill found the little furniture and played with it before Christmas. “Mama could make anything and made things for all of us. She sewed and canned and cooked. She baked Christmas cakes – coconut, chocolate, and fruitcake – and we always had plenty to eat. At Christmas, we had a feast and everybody came,” Grandmother said.

Grandmother’s eyes twinkled and she grinned as she reminisced. My Grands wiggled, giggled, and listened. They knew before they left her house Grandmother would offer a jumbo pack of gum and just a little treat. Usually a package of their favorite cookies or candy.

Ann has passed on her mother’s joy for sharing and giving to her four children, five grandchildren, twelve great-grands, and us in-laws. She’s a blessing and I wish her the best birthday ever!

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70 is just a number, right?

Screen Shot 2017-08-24 at 7.36.06 AMSeventy. A number on interstate highway signs: Speed Limit 70. The calories in 3 ½ ounces of Greek yogurt topped with a few blueberries, 70. About the cost of a LEGO Ninjago set that several of my Grands might write on their Christmas list, $70. The weight I set on the YMCA leg curl machine, 70 pounds.

Seventy is an easy number to write unless it’s on a form listing my name and age. 70. I don’t like writing 70 years old.

When I celebrated my birthday recently, friends said, “It’s just a number.” Yes, a big number. Someone said, “Seventy is the new 50.” No, I don’t agree. “Age is only in the mind.” And in my body. “You aren’t old. Old is ten years older than we are,” I was told.

Try to tell anyone under age forty that 70 isn’t old. And certainly don’t try to convince anyone twelve or under, the ages of all eight Grands, that 70 isn’t old. My six-year-old Grand asked, “So Gran, you’re really old now, right?”

I think of my grandmothers at 70. When Granny picked beans in her garden, her white hair hid under a broad brim straw hat. Her long sleeve, button-up-the-front shirtwaist dress fell almost to her ankles. She spent her days cutting out quilt pieces, stitching them together by hand, then quilting the quilt on a wooden frame that hung from her bedroom ceiling. Her social life was church, phone visits with friends, and Saturday afternoon talk around the town square.

Grandma Gladys wore black, laced shoes with chunky heels and thick stockings held up by garters. She fried bacon and eggs for Papa’s and her breakfasts and fried pork chops and potatoes for supper. Rheumatoid arthritis and depression prevented most activities outside of her home, but her three daughters visited often and every Sunday Papa took her for a drive. In the 1950s, I thought my 70-year-old grandmothers were old. Just as my Grands think I am now.

But I wear shorts, almost touching my knees, but nevertheless shorts, and tee shirts. I slip my feet into Birkenstocks and my hairdresser makes people assume my only gray hair is the streak front and center. Meet friends for lunch. Exercise at the Y (occasionally). Write and share columns and memories. Travel and vacation with family and friends. Chauffeur Grands. Stitch a little. Search the web. With Grands, play piano and write. Play board and card and word games with anyone who’s willing. Read books. And wish for more time and more energy.

I treasure a quote by Satchel Paige, ‘How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you was?’ Maybe 40? 55? Even 67? Since my days are hardly different than when I retired from teaching eight years ago, I choose 62.

I don’t like how 7 and 0 look together, but I’m working on it and probably when the calendar declares I’m 71 years old, 7 and 0 will look better.

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Happy Birthday!

It’s birthday season in our family. All eight Grands were born between March 17 and June 8. All spring babies. And that means birthday cakes, candles, and singing “Happy Birthday.” The perfect picture is the birthday boy or girl blowing out the candles while everyone else sings. So how did this tradition begin? Why do we have birthday cakes? Why candles? Who wrote “Happy Birthday?”

Birthday cakes were traditional for Ancient Romans. They celebrated someone’s birth with pastry and one theory about birthday candles goes back to that time. People brought cakes adorned with lit candles to the temple of Artemis, goddess of the hunt. The candles’ glow was like the glow of the moon, a symbol associated with Artemis, and it was believed that the smoke carried prayers to the heavens. Today’s tradition of making wishes before blowing out birthday candles may have come from that belief.

Or maybe the tradition of birthday candles can be credited to the Germans. In the 1700s, the Germans traditionally placed one lit candle on a cake to celebrate children’s birthdays. The candle symbolized the light of life. In 1746, a Count celebrated his birthday with an extravagant festival. According to an article in Mental Floss, published January 2014, “there was a Cake as large as any Oven could be found to bake it, and Holes made in the Cake according to the Years of the Person’s Age, every one having a Candle stuck into it, and one in the Middle.”

It’s no surprise to me that “Happy Birthday” was written by a schoolteacher. Teachers have always come up with little ditties to lighten the work of a school day. In 1893, a Kentucky kindergarten teacher, Patty Hill, and her older sister wrote the original lyrics: “”Good morning to you / Good morning to you / Good morning, dear children / Good morning to all.”

Later, in the early 1900s the lyrics were changed to become our beloved birthday song. A song sung around kitchen tables, in banquet halls, at the grandest of parties. In movies and radio. And then, in 1934, the Hill sisters secured a copyright over the song if it was sung for profit.

In 1988, after a series of acquisitions, Warner Music became the owners of “Happy Birthday” and reported earning $2 million yearly. Half of those royalties went into The Hill Foundation, set up in the sisters’ honor. But there were rumblings and arguments that the song belonged to public.

In 2013, a filmmaker filed a lawsuit against Warner Music over the copyright. Two years later “Happy Birthday” was declared public domain and royalties for its use would no longer be paid to Warner Music. “Happy Birthday” should belong to the public. I never imagined it otherwise. It’s the most sung song.

I’m thankful to Ancient Romans, Germans, and a kindergarten teacher who all contributed to making our family birthday celebrations fun. What would a birthday be without cake, candles, and singing?

Birthday Memories

imagesMy baby girl celebrated her birthday last week. Seems she grew up, went away to college, taught school, married, birthed babies – all in a flash of time. Even though she’s a mother, she’s still my girl.

Daughter was Husband’s and my first child. To take her home from the hospital, I dressed her in a frilly pink outfit with a white lace collar. The top barely covered her belly and the plastic lined bloomers were much too big over her cloth diaper. I swaddled her in a pink blanket and tied the ribbon attached to her white eyelet bonnet under her chin. The thirty-minute ride to our home seemed long. She cried. No doubt she was hot, uncomfortable, and unhappy strapped in an infant seat. I rocked and cuddled as soon as we were home. I didn’t want to put her down.

For her first birthday, Daughter had a three-layer cake, frosted with white icing and decorated with pink and purple and yellow flowers. She wore a white and blue bubble suit and no shoes. I set her on the kitchen table right beside the cake and encourage her to dig in. She smeared icing on her hair, face, clothes, and even her toes. And she smiled and laughed and babbled and entertained all who watched – grandparents, aunts, uncles, Husband and me.

Tennessee Tech’s homecoming coincided with her 5th birthday and Tech’s parade was just for her. She shook purple and gold shakers, gathered a bucketful of candy thrown by people riding on floats, and high-fived with Awesome Eagle.

When Daughter was ten, she planned her party, a skating party at the roller rink. With her friends, she skated for hours as I watched and silently prayed that no one would get hurt. They raced and chased each other. Skated on one skate. Held hands and slung the last person off the long whip. Thankfully, there were no broken bones or serious bruises. Not even for us grown ups, wearing skates, as we hugged the wall to stay out of the way. We ate pizza and strawberry cake, and then skated more. Great fun for kids.

Then came her 16th birthday when Daughter’s friends threw a surprise pizza party. I was happy they loved her enough to celebrate, and my only contribution was to order an ice cream cake from Baskin Robbins. One of Daughter’s friends picked up the cake and since they didn’t have knife, and didn’t ask for one at Pizza Hut, they set the cake in the middle of the table and all dug in with their forks.

During her college years, I mailed cards and gifts, wished her happy birthday over the phone and sent silly emails. And I realized that Daughter was as I’d prayed she’d be – an independent woman.

Last year Daughter’s husband and children planned a big celebration. They invited friends and served a catered meal. Guests laughed at pictures of past birthday celebrations.

In recent birthday pictures, Daughter isn’t alone. Ten years ago, she held her firstborn in her arms. Last week, her five children surrounded her and together they blew out the candles on her cake. The youngest, age 17 months, cried. Maybe it was the off key singing or the loud noise. I snapped a picture and then comforted Daughter’s baby boy and hoped no one noticed that I wiped his tears and then mine.

Children become adults much too fast.

 

Birthday Celebrations

IMG_1678Today is my birthday and I’m celebrating! I’ve never understood why anyone acts like having a birthday is a burden.   Why not be happy just as your parents were when you were born? As you were when you were 5? When you are 21?

And why say, “Oh, we don’t have to do anything special.” Those who love you want to celebrate and are happy when you choose the way, like Cathy did on her birthday last October.

Cathy is Daughter’s and my friend. Her age hits right in the middle of ours. She and Daughter bonded during the years they taught 5th grade in next-door classrooms. Cathy and I crossed paths at church, at social events, and as fellow teachers. Cathy loves Daughter’s children – in fact, she loves all children. So on her birthday, she celebrated with kids. Five of my Grands.

“Mom,” Daughter said in a phone call to me, “Cathy called and you might want to come by our house after lunchtime today. Cathy says she’d bringing stuff for her own birthday party.”

My Grands sat on their covered back porch watching for Cathy and they ask questions. Do you think she’ll bring a cake? What’s her favorite ice cream? Will she bring her own gift? Shouldn’t we give her something? How many candles will be on her cake? Can we help her blow out the candles? Is anyone else coming?

“I’m here! Let’s eat cake and ice cream!” Cathy shouted as soon as she opened her car door. She had made a one-stop shopping trip at the grocery store and she handed my older Grands, ages 7 and 9, packages to open. Birthday plates and napkins decorated with balloons. My five-year-old Grand put a candle on each of the dozen cupcakes. Six chocolate decorated with white icing. Six yellow, iced with chocolate. All with multi-colored sprinkles.

I opened the packaged individual ice cream cups. Chocolate and vanilla swirl. My three-year-old Grand put a small plastic spoon on top of each ice cream cup and Daughter passed out the individual packages of fruit drinks. This event had to be documented with a picture. I got my camera ready and Daughter, Cathy, and my Grands gathered close to each other.

“Wait!” said Cathy, “I forgot something.” She pulled two more packages out of a plastic grocery bag. Two packages with black looking hair. “They didn’t have birthday hats so I got mustaches!”

Mustaches. Black, fuzzy, stick-on mustaches. Cathy stuck hers on first. Then Daughter and four of my Grands, ages 3-9, and they all giggled and squealed.   Once again they grouped together for a picture. “What about Micah?” asked my oldest Grand. Micah, age four months, sat calmly in Cathy’s lap amid all the chaos. And he wasn’t exactly happy about having something stuck right under his nose, but he and his brother and sisters wore their first mustaches – long enough for a picture.

“Happy Birthday” has never been sung louder or more off key. Every cup of ice cream was eaten.   The icing on every cupcake was licked off and the cakes nibbled. Such laughing. Such a happy time. So much fun.

So, following Cathy’s example, I made plans for today. There’ll be children and cake and ice cream. No mustaches. Maybe a surprise or two. Surprises for those who celebrate with me.

Anywhere You WAnt

Screen Shot 2015-03-26 at 7.52.09 AMDaughter and I told my two Grands that while we were on an overnight trip to celebrate their birthdays, each could choose a place to eat. Ruth, turning 6, chose the Rainforest Café for lunch. It was convenient for our shopping at Opry Mills where the girls would later build bears. Lou, almost 8, doesn’t like the Rainforest Café. Its thunderstorms. Loud, roaring and squawking animals. Trees and bushes. The food. She’d wait outside in the mall.

As Ruth and I followed the hostess to a corner booth, I heard Daughter use her mother voice and minutes later she and Lou joined us. Ruth loves everything about this restaurant that her sister hates. “Look! There’s the elephants making their loud noises,” Ruth said. This Grand was thrilled. She ate most of the hotdog and potatoes that she ordered while Lou sampled her tomato soup and ate two packages of crackers and a crunchy yeast roll. “Remember,” Lou said, “I’m picking the supper place!”

There were many choices near the Providence Marketplace in Mt. Juliet. After an hour-long swim in our hotel’s swimming pool, both girls were eager to eat supper. “What are you hungry for?” Daughter asked Lou. We settled into our van and everyone buckled seat belts, the girls seated behind Daughter and me. Lou said, “What’s the choices?” And that’s when Daughter and I made our mistake.

“Anywhere you want to go,” I said. Daughter added, “Look around. There are lots places here. You pick.”   Then we announced a few places. Panera Bread. Chick-fil-A. Wendy’s. New York Pizza. Lou shook her head after every restaurant we named. Daughter drove slowly around the shopping center parking lot.

“Wait!” Lou said, “Is that Kroger? Let’s go to Kroger!” Daughter and I laughed. “We’re not buying food to cook,” Daughter said.

“No cooking,” Lou said with a big smile. “Let’s go to Kroger and get Lunchables!”

“Lunchables aren’t supper,” said Daughter. “It could be. Get two,” said Lou. I named more restaurants. “Kroger. Lunchables,” my Grand said.

Daughter said, “There’s no place in Kroger to eat.”

“Then we’ll take them back to our hotel room,” Lou said. I said that I wanted to put my feet under a table to eat, not while sitting on a bed. “Then we’ll take them to the swimming pool. There’s tables and chairs there.” I didn’t explain that food wasn’t allowed in the pool area. We were passed the point of being reasonable.

“How about frozen yogurt?” said Daughter. I suggested Marble Slab ice cream.

“Kroger Lunchables! Kroger Lunchables!” Lou chanted happily. Ruth joined in. My two Grands clapped to the beat of their singsong voices. “You said anywhere!” Lou interjected. Daughter and I shook our heads and smiled at each other. “And I didn’t like the Rainforest!” Lou reminded us.

Daughter and I looked carefully at the sign painted on Panera Bread’s door. It didn’t say “No Outside Food” so we stashed Lou’s and Ruth’s suppers inside our purses. We chose a back corner table. Daughter’s and my bowls of soup were delicious and my Grands ate every morsel of their Luncheables.

“Haven’t you written a column about Luncheables?” Daughter asked. I nodded. “This might rate another.”

How could a grandmother and a mother, both former elementary school teachers, not name three choices? Never ever say “Anywhere you want to go.” Never.

 

Birthday Reflections

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When a burn permit is needed before the birthday candles are lit, it’s time to stop putting candles on the cake, right? My Grands didn’t think and they decorated my cake with exactly the right number of candles. Husband asked, “Did you get a burn permit?” That wasn’t one bit funny. My Grands said, “There’s so many candles, we’ll help you blow them out!” All the candles weren’t lit, but the cake still looked like an inferno. It took four Grands and me so long to blow out all those candles that the ice cream melted in the carton.

After my birthday last week, it occurred to me that I’m the age Granny was when she was old. So old that I’d pinch the skin on the back of her hand and count the seconds until her skin lay flat. So old that a hard day’s work was hoeing two rows of corn in her garden. So old that she wore long dresses and black leather lace-up shoes and stuffed a handkerchief in her bosom.

Times have changed. We grandmothers of today aren’t like my grandmother, there are some things women of Granny’s generation did that I’ve promised myself I won’t do.

  1. Hold my purse in my lap.
  2. Carry a plastic rain cap in my purse.
  3. Take a sweater everywhere I go – especially during the summer.
  4. Talk about bathroom habits.
  5. Say, “I lost ____.” (Fill in the blank with the most recently missing item.)

When I was a young thirty-something, I attended a luncheon for senior citizens and I set my purse on the floor. The two women seated across from me whispered to each other and then one said, “Your purse is on the floor.” I nodded, smiled, and agreed. They looked as if I’d just announced that there was a fire in the building. With big eyes and a stern voice, one lady said, “Honey, the floor is no place for your purse.” Then I noticed that all the older women at the table held their purses, with thin paper napkins covering them, in their laps. And I swore that I’d never, ever hold my purse in my lap.

I don’t even know if those little plastic rain caps are still available. Granny always carried two in her purse, one for herself and one for anyone who didn’t have one. Yes, sometimes rooms are overly air-conditioned and a sweater is needed – but no one needs a sweater at an outside Fourth of July celebration. About the bathroom talk – when I was a little girl, I learned that what happens in the bathroom isn’t talked about. That goes for everybody, no matter how old.

I really don’t lose things. I put things in safe places or logical places to use them another time. Recently I said to Husband, “When you see my little gray camera laying around somewhere, please tell me where it is.” And he said, “So that’s what you’ve lost today?” I didn’t say that.

Here’s my plan. As long as my Grands will put candles on my birthday cake and help me blow them out, I want birthday candles. And I won’t act old, like Granny and her friends did, and I’ll never let my Grands pinch the back of my hand.