It isn’t every day that you have the chance to celebrate a parent’s hundredth birthday but that is what just happened: my mother turned one hundred on October 21. We realize how lucky we are to have this amount of time with her—it is a blessing.
Our dad passed away just after his seventy-fourth birthday and that was way too young, but again it was a blessing to have him with us for the length of time we had. Many people are not so lucky.
The anticipation of this celebration was exciting for all of us but especially for my mother. Everyone in her community was talking about her birthday and asking if she was really turning one hundred. Or, if they didn’t mention it, she would announce, “Did you know that I’m turning one hundred?”
My mother has always loved a party and this hasn’t changed. As the day of her party approached, she grew more and more excited. I’d celebrated my birthday the previous month and after wishing me a wonderful day and giving me a big kiss, she immediately asked, “When is mine?”
Anticipation filled the air. So we started celebrating the day before the centennial. With most of her family gathered, she held court at the end of the dinner table and, addressing all of us, proclaimed how happy she was that we were all together.
When the cake arrived and the champagne was poured, she announced that she wanted us to acknowledge the grandmothers. Her desire, it seemed, was that we pay homage to our history, the women that made us who we are. When she was done speaking, she asked us to applaud them. It was such a strong and loving gesture, but asking us to applaud was so unlike her. I don’t believe I’ve heard her ask for that kind of response from us—ever.
How much of her presence is with us and how much is moving toward her next life? I don’t know, but I am willing to listen to what she is saying, hearing without judgment, pausing to learn from her words, remembering that she has been our teacher all these years.
Monique Olmer's collages
Prior to our celebration, on entering the elevator lobby of my mother’s building, I had seen a collage hanging on the wall. Was this my mother’s work? On closer examination, I realized that it was different from her style, but very similar. Collages were my mother’s passion. Over the years she created a method of using magazine pages to create astounding pieces.
Confused, I continued on to her room where I asked if she knew anything about the piece that was hanging in the elevator lobby.
“Oh yes,” she responded, “that’s my pupil.” I understood that the roles had reversed. The art therapist, Emily, had started spending time with my mother. And instead of her teaching my mother about art it seemed that my mother was teaching her
Monique Olmer's collages
On Monday the day of her hundredth birthday, there was a beautiful note underneath the collage.
Emily Scranton's inspiration
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Celine was a name that was synonymous with good food in my home. She was my grandmother’s cook. My mother still tells me stories about watching Celine in the kitchen. Her secret, she’d say in a hushed tone, was her sauces; sauces, she’d say with emphasis, are the secret to being a great cook. Celine didn’t . . .