The evites went out on Sunday afternoon. Within minutes, I had four responses. My sister wasn't flying in, but the locals would be out in force. As the day went on, my inbox was filling up with love notes from the invitees. They were delighted to be asked, even if 3pm on Tuesday was inconvenient or impossible.
When Mom asked if she had anyone to invite, I assured her that there were a lot of people who would enjoy the chance to wish her well. Besides, I told her, we'll have cake and ice cream and champagne, and everyone needs a snack in the late afternoon. She and I had made our presence known in the Happy Ladies Club, back before I intersected with bullets. We'd bowled, we'd lunched, we'd walked with women younger than she and older than she and we were welcomed with interest and affection. I figured that I could ask those women to attend without the whole thing looking staged.
Once I started through my contact list, I found lots of pockets of love to include. Burtt and Ernie were thrilled to get the chance to meet my mom, to see my face, to show off how well Burtt is recovering, to talk to TBG, to meet my brother. Nurse Nancy, whose healing hands and pressure saved my life on the sidewalk outside the Safeway, entered the room in the arms of my brother, who introduced her to one and all as THE Nancy. He's right, of course.
But mostly it was the Happy Ladies Club, women who look like the women who've always been in my mother's life, comfortable, settled, of all shapes and sizes but each one willing to spend an hour with a friend. For them, the cake and ice cream were the cherry on top of a pretty special afternoon.
None of them had been to the pod-castle before, and none of them were prepared for it. Watching their reactions to the open, airy public spaces, G'ma's charming personal apartment, the friendliness of the staff, was comfort to my soul. Though she never wanted to live with me, and I never wanted to invite her, it's always a tug when I leave her behind... with strangers.... to fend for herself. The smiles on the guests' faces was fabulously confirming.
I was the one getting the present. I felt that way all afternoon.
No Presents, PLEASE was the request, though, if you must bring something, bring chocolate was on the very next line. There were fancy milk duds, and Godiva, and bags of goodies... all chocolate. The chocolate from the chocolate cake with chocolate frosting and the two types of chocolate ice cream was coating her lips as she smiled, and thanked the givers. The cards were chosen with care, and the notes were filled with love... and amazement. 90 is a true milestone and, amidst the revelry and the story telling, the waves of conversation kept returning to that fact.
G'ma was feeling proud of herself by the time the last guest left. She wore her cardboard tiara into the dining room, something she'd never have done in her old life. She walked right to her chair, and accepted birthday greetings with a smile. Brother and I walked out with smiles on our faces and joy in our hearts.
It's not what I'd imagined her dotage to be. She is calm and accepting and unafraid, adjectives which never would have been used when she was 60 or 70. I look for myself in her, and I hope I see that same willingness to agree when wiser minds must prevail. The ability to cede control without panic or recriminations is, I think, G'ma's greatest gift. She is aware enough to know what she doesn't know, but that's not the center of her day to day existence. She seeks the peace, the comfort, the familiar, and she smiles as time passes.
It's not giving up, it's acceptance.
She's 90 and she's happy.
I can accept that.