Today would have been my mother’s 96th birthday. She left us seven years ago, when she was 89. My mom never really enjoyed celebrating her birthday. I can recall a couple of times when we bought her a cake, flowers or a gift…she really didn’t appreciate the gift or the thought and, she would say, “it’s just another day.” But her 80th Birthday still stands out in my mind and in a few other minds too.
About three weeks prior to my mother’s 80th birthday, we were all at my cousin’s house celebrating her baby daughter’s second birthday. There was a large crowd of friends and family there that day. My mother went around, in a boasting sort of way, making it known that her 80th birthday was just a couple of weeks away. An 80th birthday is, after all, a pretty big accomplishment, no to mention the fact that my mother had been telling us she was on “borrowed time” since she was 50! Well, after the party, we went home and didn’t think any more about it.
The day of her birthday, my cousin calls me to say she wants to see my mother for her 80th birthday and will be driving in that night with her family. I begin to have two conversations…one with my cousin and one in my head. “Oh that’s nice of you, she’ll be surprised!” (In my head I am thinking, oh great, my mother hates surprises and celebrating her birthday.) My cousin says she will bring the cake. I reply, “No, I have a bakery right here, I will get it and bring it to my mother’s tonight.” (In my head I am thinking, how am I going to tell my mother that she will be having a houseful of company, so she can brace herself.) My cousin says she will be there at 6:30 and can’t stay long because the kids have school the next day. I say, “Great, I’ll see you at 6:30.” And now I have to call and tell my mother!
“Hi Mom,” I say, as she picks up the phone. “What do you want?,” she answers. “I have to tell you something and you aren’t going to like it,” I reply. “Why? What is it?,” she asks with an attitude. “Well Maria is coming down tonight with her family to wish you a happy birthday and she wants it to be a surprise,” I explain. In an agitated state, my mother answers, “I don’t want to celebrate my birthday, it’s just another day on the calendar. Tell them to stay home!” “I’m not calling to tell them to stay home when they are trying to do a nice thing for you!” I reply. “WHO THE HELL TOLD THEM IT WAS MY BIRTHDAY?!?” she demands to know. “You did! You told everyone at the party two weeks ago, and now they want to do something nice and come see you tonight. If you don’t want company, you call and tell them.” I answer, “and if not, remember to act surprised!”
Well of course, my mother doesn’t call my cousin to cancel the party and everyone arrives at 6:30 pm to wish my mom a happy birthday. A few minutes into the “party,” my cousin suggests that we call another of our cousins, who lives downstairs, in the basement apartment of my mother's house, and tell her to come up and have a piece of cake. No one knows what time she comes home from work, but there are times it’s late. My cousin, Ann, who lives in the basement, is a bit illogical in her thinking, so I volunteer to make the call, as I communicate very clearly. And, when I call at 7 pm, I get her answering machine. I leave this message: “Ann, Maria and her family are here to celebrate my mother’s birthday. We have a cake. Maria has to leave early because the kids have school tomorrow. If you get this message in time, and you want a piece of cake, you are welcome to join us.”
Now, we continue to talk and visit and my father puts up the coffee pot. My mother, despite her complaining, actually enjoys being the center of attention and being made a fuss over. At 7:45 we sing Happy Birthday and cut the cake. There are 13 of us present. Everyone is chatting, eating cake and sipping coffee, when Ann walks in at 8 pm. She wishes my mom a happy birthday and says hi to everyone. The she turns to me and says, “You always do this to me! You couldn’t have waited until I got here to have cake?” I say, “I left a message saying Maria couldn’t stay long, the kids have school tomorrow and we had no idea what time you would be home.” She says, “you did not say they were leaving early.” I get irate. I chose my words carefully to avoid this argument and she still didn’t get it! “I did say they had to leave early, that was the point of the call,” I answered, in a not so nice voice, “I know what I said!” “No you didn’t,” she insists. Now I am about to have a real stroke, so I say “Let’s go downstairs RIGHT NOW and play the message!” She answers, “I deleted it!”
Well, I am seeing red and I started yelling at Ann. I tell her she arrives late to every party, no matter how much advanced notice she is given. Sometimes she shops for a gift the morning of the party. Is everyone supposed to wait for her? I keep it up until I see the frightened look on all the children’s faces and the stunned expressions on the adults. I stop, quickly try to compose myself and apologize for my outburst. And this is how my mother’s birthday ended. Because it was now 8:30 and it takes Maria at least a half hour to 45 minutes to get home.
Sixteen years later and I remember it like it was yesterday. My girls, who barely remember anything much of their childhood, have vivid memories of this occasion. In fact, I’m sure everyone remembers it well. In case you think I am nuts, my cousin Ann has a very long history of poor communication, poor judgment, and no logic. My explosion was a result of years of being subjected to her irrationality and also from the fact that I took great pains to be clear to avoid any misunderstanding that night. On top of all that, I am my mother's daughter, and the apple didn't fall far from the tree! Oh well, at least it was memorable.
Happy 96th Birthday in heaven, Mom!