Four years ago, I made a video to show at my mother’s 90th birthday celebration in which I interviewed her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren about her. During the interviews I asked the family to look into the camera and thank her for something she had done that meant a lot to them and then to describe her in one word. Even though I interviewed dozens of relatives, interestingly they all said something different about our matriarch. While she has different names including Mama, Mammy, Mamaw, and Old Mamaw, the family has a thousand more reasons to be thankful for her.
Today we celebrate her 94th birthday with more even more reasons and several new family members to embrace and thank her.
My mother was born the same year that women got the right to vote in America. She graduated from high school at 16 and was awarded a church scholarship to Rio Grande College in southern Ohio. It was 1936 and times then were still tough. Although the scholarship was generous, it didn’t cover everything. Her father sold the family cow to send my mother to school; a selfless act that enabled her to become the first member of her family to graduate from college.
After she graduated, she met and married my handsome blue-eyed and dark-haired father. She lived in a cabin with two babies (my much older brothers) on Daddy’s parents farm while he was overseas during World War II fighting with the Navy. Mama raised three of us, taught elementary school for 50 years, built one house, renovated a farmhouse, mastered bridge and many other card games and became a Kappa Alpha house mother after she retired from teaching at age 70.
She wasn’t your average teacher. Last year a group of former fourth grade students tracked her down to let her know the impact she had on their lives, even though these students are now in their 70s. It’s no accident that many of us followed her into education and that today one granddaughter is an elementary school principal and another is a state-wide teacher of the year.
What started as a baby-boomer family of two parents and three children has grown to 54 people with two new great-great grandchildren arriving soon. She has spent years watching grandsons progress through little league to college baseball then sometimes on to the minor and major leagues with nothing other than full encouragement and pride. Mama supported with full enthusiasm my short-lived fascination with barrel racing in middle school the same way she is thrilled to hear about my grandniece’s first year on the pro rodeo circuit. She is proud of all of us and when times get tough she is there to both help pick up the pieces or provide a swift kick.
Despite my mother’s still busy daily life she takes time to check up on her friends and read about her grand and great-grandchildren on facebook. What some may call her “snoopy-ness” once led to my biggest scoop as a political reporter in D.C. When my boss asked me how I figured out the pattern of behaviors from a series of leaked political documents, I was forced to admit that it wasn’t all my reporting skills but rather an insight from my mother who had picked up the papers and immediately deciphered the deception.
Mama’s interest and investment in her family’s lives showed through each relative in the birthday video. Many grandchildren thanked her for attended every sporting event, every dance recital, and never failing to remember their birthdays. Pookie thanked her for sharing her love of words. My niece thanked her for being an example of grace when my father died suddenly at 57. A nephew thanked her for their shared sense of fierce competitiveness. In-laws, including my husband, thanked her for raising her children to be original people. My son bluntly thanked her for teaching him not to take crap from anyone.
The best description came from her then-nine-year-old great grandson. When I asked him to describe his Old Mamaw in one word, he paused for a moment, looked right into the camera, and said the one perfect word: “Love.”
Happy Birthday, Mama! We love you!