My mom turned 100 last week. She was born and raised in New Orleans, seen so many amazing things come and go, and is now benefitting from and embracing the digital age. She’s lived through so many presidents, two world wars and other global conflicts. She likes watching The Big Bang Theory because it makes her laugh. She’s just as addicted to Downton Abbey as the rest of us and can’t wait for the next episode. She loves to watch the older episodes even though she’s seen them so many times she could probably recite some of the lines.
For 61 years she’s lived in this big house in the Maple Street/Carrollton section of the city for as long as I’ve been alive. Just a few blocks away toward the lake is Green Street and the house she was born in. Yep, that house is still there. This is New Orleans where people, instead of tearing them down, fix homes up to celebrate and hand them on to the next generation. She’s a great cook, a great mother, grandmother and great grandmother, the originator of so many progeny that it’s hard to count.
A hundred people showed up for her big birthday bash, some from as far away as New York, California and Georgia. When we sent out the invitations to a hundred people we figured, as you figure for most parties, that a third of the people won’t show up. In this case, we were wrong. Except for a few last minutes cancellations a hundred people did come to celebrate her century of life.
And what a party it was. I’ll never forget as we lit the candles on the cake seeing a massive crowd gathered around her and then singing happy birthday as loudly and brilliantly as I’ve ever heard it. She did a pretty good job at blowing out all the candles out, too. Throughout the day she sat in a big chair and held court as so many friends and relatives came to talk and give their congratulations for a life well-lived.
My mom is still sharp, still does her own books, still eats well, still goes to exercise class twice a week, still goes to the beauty parlor on Saturday. Yes, she needs a walker to get around, but she still goes up and down a full flight of stairs at least once a day. Folks still marvel that she can do that. I do too. Yes, her eyesight is not as good as it used to be and although she complains of not being able to read the newspaper well she can still read subtitles on the TV.
Recently, we got her a hearing aid which has made all the difference in the world because now she can be part of conversations without people having to yell, and I don’t have to turn the TV up so loud. A relief for her and for all of us.
What is the secret for my mom’s longevity? Well, some would say good genes. And that may have something to do with it. Her oldest brother lived to be 94 and drove a car up to the last few weeks of his life. She also had a great aunt who lived to be 105 who, as my mom tells it, was a little batty in the end for she was always concerned that German soldiers were trying to get in through the window. But she had been consigned to living in a rest home the last years of her life. Maybe living like that away from the constant love and caring of family members might have had that kind of effect on her. I don’t know.
But when pressed my mom says the reason she’s lived so long is because of her attitude. “You have to be happy,” she says, “no one can make you happy, you have to be happy in yourself.” Also, she says she just doesn’t let things bother her, she’s learned how to just let things go.
My mom may be 100 but she looks like she could be in her early 80s, a healthy early 80s. Her skin is still smooth and her voice is still clear and on the telephone sounds a lot younger than she is. The doctor says her heart is still strong. When she went last year for a checkup she told her that all she wanted to do was live to 100. The doctor confidently said, “Oh, you’re gonna live way past that.”
Having her as my mom has been a real gift and it’s been a real privilege for me to be able to be with her on a daily basis and take care of her needs over the last ten years. My mom gave me life, lovingly raised me and gave me a good home and encouragement for my future. I’ve realized that taking care of her and returning the favor of what she’s done for me is the most important thing I will ever do.
In no way have I ever seen this as a burden or something I have to do. I do it because I want to and is something I’ve truly enjoyed. In trying to be a good son by being her caregiver I have learned so much about myself, about her, our family and know that it has truly changed me and made me a better person. She’s my best friend.
Thanks, Mom, for everything. Live forever.