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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?

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.

Peppermints and Cupcakes

Picture 2             “Can we play the peppermint game after lunch?”  my Grand, age 6, asks.

“Sure,” I say.  “Do you remember who taught you that game?”

“Aunt Doris,” eight-year-old David, answers quickly.  “Remember the time I found a peppermint under the couch and she didn’t even know it was there?  It was kind of hard, but I ate it anyway.”

“I wanna’ play too,” says Ruth, age.

“Play, too!”  shouts my two-year-old Grand.  It’s Thursday.  The day these four Grands are Husband’s and my lunch guests.

Aunt Doris, the Grands’ great-great aunt, always had York Peppermint Patties to share with children.  But she didn’t just give them to the children – they played Aunt Doris’s game, Hot and Cold.  A game most everyone has played.  The children hid their eyes or went into the kitchen while Aunt Doris hid peppermint candies in her living room.  “Okay, you can start hunting now,” she’d say.  And then one at a time, each child looked for a peppermint while Aunt Doris gave clues as to how close the hunter was to the hidden treat.  Cold – far away from the candy.  Warm – getting closer.  Hot – very close.

I don’t know who had more fun.  Aunt Doris, my Grands, or maybe Uncle Hugh and I as we watched.   “Hide it again,” my older Grands would say, “and this time made it really hard.”  The same candy might be hidden two or three times, and Aunt Doris refused to give any clues except cold, warm, and hot.  A simple game and a simple candy treat, that connected two generations, separated by more than 80 years.  And now I hide the peppermints.

It occurred to me that so much of what grandparents do, we do to make memories and connect our grandchildren with those we love.  One afternoon when our oldest Grand was about four, Husband came home from work with a box of fancy cupcakes.  “Aren’t the kids (meaning our daughter, son-in-law, and two Grands at the time) coming for supper?  I bought dessert.”  I wanted to know what the special occasion was, but I didn’t get an answer.

As the table was being cleared of dirty plates and meat and potatoes, Husband left the kitchen and came back carrying a picture of my dad.  “Today’s a special day.  It’s your great-grandfather’s birthday,” he told our Grands.  “He made this kitchen table.  This one where we just ate supper, and he was your Gran’s daddy.”  And with that, a tradition began.  On the birthdays of my deceased parents and Husband’s father, we eat cupcakes, look at pictures, and talk about Papa, Grannie, and Grandfather.  Our Grands will never know and love these three great-grandparents as they do Grandmother, who visits and brings macaroni and cheese and chocolate pudding, but maybe they’ll remember that Papa was a schoolteacher and a postmaster, and that Grannie sewed beautiful clothes and owned a flower shop, and that Grandfather owned a grocery store.

  It’s all about the memories and connections.  And peppermints and cupcakes.images

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Happy Birthday

I’ve never received so many birthday greetings. Or in so many different ways. More than six months ago, the government sent congratulations. An introductory paragraph stated, “Now that you are approaching …..” I stopped reading. I chose to not be reminded of the number that followed.
Every insurance company that offers Medicare A, B, C, D, and XYZ supplement programs mailed good wishes, or condolences, depending on my attitude the day I opened the mail. And then their representatives called. In their friendliest and most caring voices, each offered to stop by for a short visit, at my convenience, to discuss health care. I coined an official response “I’ve made my decision about health insurance for the rest of my life. It’s signed, sealed, and delivered.” That ended our budding relationships.
Finally, the end of July rolled around, and my birthday, with its looming number, could no longer be ignored. And, to be honest, I like celebrating birthdays, mine and everyone else’s. Thanks to the post office, Mark Zuckerberg, Ray Tomlinson, and Alexander Graham Bell, good wishes arrived. In my mailbox, on Facebook, through email, and over the phone.
A really good friend, mailed a card that read, “I know it’s your birthday, but I’ve forgotten your age!” Bless her heart. Wish I could. A Facebook post that read, “Happy Birthday to a sweet young lady that I had at 4-H camp for many years,” took me back to bunk beds, horseback riding, and jumping off a high dive. And I liked the e-card with the dancing bear that sang, “Each year is just a number. Count the friendships you hold in your heart.”
I got birthday wishes from my Grands. One-year-old Grand, 1300 miles away, giggled and kissed his computer screen. When I said, “Let’s pat a cake,” he clapped his hands. So I sat on my couch at my house, and he sat on his daddy’s lap at his house, and together we patted and rolled and threw tiny imaginary cakes. As we said good-bye, I caught all my Grand’s birthday waves and kisses. Thanks goodness for video chats.
After eating birthday cake at my Grands’ house that’s across town, my seven-year-old Grand announced, “Gran, we have a surprise for you.”
“It’s outside. Don’t come out yet,” his younger sister  said. My Grands ran back and forth from the outside picnic table to inside their house. They rummaged through their school supplies. “Don’t let Gran come outside!” they screamed.
Finally, I was invited to unveil the surprise. Two bath towels covered the picnic table and my present. Garden stepping stones. One made by, or for, each Grand. With handprints, names and ages. And decorated, kid-style, with colorful stones. Treasured gifts! “Look up, Gran! There’s your card.” A blue paper waved from a tree. Four-inch tall green letters had been scribbled from one side of the paper to the other, “Happy Birthday, Gran!” No numbers. No reminder of age. No “Now that you are approaching……” Just a piece of construction paper taped to a tree limb. A keepsake birthday card.