My mother, Betty Miller, is celebrating her 81st birthday today in my hometown of Salmon, Idaho.  I’ll be giving her a call to give her a special greeting on her special day, and I will most definitely be wishing I could be there to share the day with her in person.

I’m tearing up already as I write this.  I knew that I would.  I was tearing up over it just thinking about what I would write last week.  Mom’s pretty special to me.  She’s given me so many gifts through the years, done so many things for me and my sister to keep us together as a family against some amazing odds.  I want to give her something special.

If I can’t be there with Mom in person, I’ll try to imagine that I am.  I’ll paint the image in my mind, transport myself and my family that loves her dearly to her side, and hope that she can do the same.  I’ll use her 80th birthday celebration last year as a palette.

I’ll drive up to the place where she lives, walking into her room with my family following me, and see her smile light up the room while outside it’s colder than … well, make up your own analogy here.

As usual, she’ll have a hard time hearing me so I’ll have to speak up a bit when I talk to her.  She’ll be looking very pretty in a dark fleece-type top covering a light shirt to keep her warm.  Her hair will be done up nicely.  Her next-room neighbor and longtime friend Ada will be ready to go, and they’ll race each other with their walkers down the hallway to the vehicles that will carry them to the party.

Mom (left) with sisters Rosemary and Beverly

Mom will be greeted and teased (she always did love a good tease, my father was great at that) by her sisters and one of her nieces as she enters the room at the Presbyterian Center.  She’ll take a special seat in the middle of the table that’s sitting in the center of the large room.  She is, after all, the center of attention for the afternoon.

Good friends of the family and beloved relatives will soon be making their way to the celebration, greeting her and wishing Mom a happy birthday before filling their plates with sandwiches, fruit and cake.

Good friend Ada, my sister Lynda Kay, and Mom

It will be just the way she’d want it.  People sitting around and talking with each other, enjoying each others’ company.

In a side room, a photo slideshow of Mom’s life will be playing the entire afternoon.  In the main hallway, a few members of the local Old Time Fiddlers — including two relatives of ours — will start warming up and playing many of Mom’s favorite tunes.

As the fiddlers and guitarist play, some “inspiration” will suddenly come to me.  The birthday girl needs to dance.  She needs a time in the celebration when all eyes will be upon her.

My Dad, John Miller

I think of my Dad, and I ask the musicians to play “Tennessee Waltz.”  Just before they play the tune, I sit next to Mom and ask her for the next dance.  She’s unsure of it all, she seems very nervous about doing too much without her walker.

Falling on a cement sidewalk and breaking her wrist earlier that 4th of July would make her unsure.

But I’m able to coax her into it.  I hold onto her arm and support her with a hand behind her back as we walk carefully to a space big enough to dance slowly.  I take her right hand in my left, put my right hand behind her back, and the music begins.

Dancing with Mom to the "Tennessee Waltz"

I’m dancing for my father, with his special lady.  Video recorders are capturing it all, and cameras are flashing to get a memory of the moment.  All eyes are upon us.  I’m having to bite my lip and keep from tearing up too much on the dance floor.  It’s all for my Dad, and the love of his life who’s missed him so much through these 50-plus years.  I’m imagining how my Dad would speak to her in his deep Kentucky drawl that seemed so foreign to her when she first met him in the mining community where they both lived and worked.

“Happy birthday, Beatty!  Ah love you!”

It’s a memory that will always live on inside of me.

The afternoon will go on with more visiting, people watching the slideshow, more music, more smiles, more laughter.

What a day!

When she returns to her room at the living center, Mom will be very tired but very happy.  She’ll relive as many moments from the day as she can in her mind, and she’ll be smiling.  It’s a good, joy-filled smile.  I’ll give her a kiss and a hug good-night before spending the remainder of the evening with my own family, going to the local movie theater to see the latest “Narnia” film with the snow pouring down on the main street of my small hometown, getting us in the Christmas spirit as we walk along the street.

If there are any days that could genuinely be called perfect, this would be one.  And this is the way it actually was.  This day was … golden.

The next morning, my family will need to leave for the long drive back home from the mountains of central Idaho to the mountains of Utah.  The roads over a mile-high summit in the desert heading toward southeast Idaho will be snow-packed and icy with snow drifting over the two-lane highway, so we’ll have to take it slow.  But we’ll make it safely.  I reassure Mom of that, because she’s a worry-wart.  Always has been, always will be.

"The whole famn damily"

Before we leave, I’ll set our camera up on top of Mom’s television in her room, aimed at her chair with the timed shutter set.  Mom will be sitting down with her granddaughter Alicia, daughter-in-law Amy, grandson Grant, and me gathered around her.  Her grandson Curtis had wished so much he could have been there, but final exams for college were coming up … just as they were this year.

The camera will take a few shots, and then it will be time for one more hug and kiss from everyone to the “lady of the weekend.”

My greatest wish for Mom right now on her birthday is that she takes good care of herself (or I’ll have to call her up and get on her case like a good “coach” would in getting their charges inspired to shape up) until the next time we can come to visit her again, to give her hugs and kisses and see her nice smile.  And we hope and pray that it’s very soon.

If my Dad could speak on behalf of my family, he’d say, “We shore do miss that lady!”

This has to be her gift to me for her birthday, and for every day.  Stay strong!  And, Mom, from me to you in that teasingly firm way that you know I can give you, “That’s an order!”

I can imagine her smiling at me, laughing, and replying, “Yes, sir!”

That’s how my Dad would have wanted it.

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6 thoughts on “Happy 81st birthday, Mom! May I have this dance?

  1. Now I’m tearing up, John. Beautifully stated. Even at almost 67, I still from time to time wonder how different my life would have been like if my dad didn’t die when I was 12 and then my mom at age 23.

    Have a great talk with your Mom!

  2. John,cherish every day that your mom is alive and in good health.We know that our parents will not live forever,but seeing them in frail health,struggling with the burdens and ills that old age can visit,is a tough proposition;one that i(as so many others) had to deal with for my mother and father(RIP).
    Best wishes to and for your mom.Mothers are, truly, one of a kind.

  3. Wonderful story John. It’s great to see how family can form the foundations of our lives. I moved my father into one of the best long term care facilities in our city this past week. Dad’s 90 years old! For the first time in over a year, he has his own with a nice priviate room. We’ve got our fingers crossed for a marital reunications so both my mother and father will be together, hopefully very soon.
    All the best to you and your mom and the family! Great Blog!!

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