Julia with a couple of her and Leon's chickens, in the yard at their place in Tampa, FL, in 1942.
Similarly with each of my six brothers, ranging from nine to eighteen years my junior. Every single new family member was a BIG deal in our house, and I got to celebrate their very first birth days. I know it is not completely true and that there were days when Julia was so tired, dragging, and ill that getting out of bed in the morning must have felt as monumental a challenge as if with Edmund Hillary and his Nepalese Sherpa, TenZing Norgay, she were making that first successful scaling of Mount Everest, back in 1953. Yet throughout her kids' childhoods, Mom continued to make each day special.
It was as though, during the worst of her growing up years, when she was at times abandoned, starved, abused, and unsure how to get through another twenty-four hours, she, like Scarlett in "Gone with the Wind" about never being hungry again*, committed herself to pulling out of despair and then to never ever on any future day again feel that unhappy, scared, or victimized, nor to take for granted any of those later, better days that she promised herself she would have.
Celebrations of holidays or birthdays were hardly the only ways to enliven our times together. She would take people to plays and concerts, swimming parties, dances, pioneer day events, 4-H gatherings, air shows, picnics in parks, ice cream socials, fireworks displays, particular restaurant meals or to get delicious food to take out, museums, church activities, and on and on.
Mom's energy, courage, drive, and independence set the tone not just for herself but for all around her, so if she were going to have better days, then by gosh they were going to enjoy them with her! So, years and years later, we all have great memories of all those special annual birthday,
Julia, presented with a corsage at the Woodway, TX, Arboretum, in October, 2002, on the occasion of her 80th birthday celebration.
Now, with my mom only a few months away from a 94th birthday, she remains in the business of celebrating others' special days and recently took one of her great granddaughters out to eat at Olive Garden for the girl's 9th birthday anniversary. She celebrates peoples' special days at every chance she gets, whether they be her kids, grandkids, or great grandkids, or the birthdays of so many others whom she has adopted into her larger family.
Julia still teaches water and chair aerobics at the local Y and helps organize monthly celebrations of members' birthdays. This month, 27 attended. Nor are birthdays the only ways she continues to make all days special for herself and others. Her activities may be more limited now, yet in a zeal to be upbeat she continues to find new outlets for each day being meaningful. Today it may be a welcome phone conversation. Another time, it might be a treasured visit with a friend or loved one. The next day perhaps she will go out to see a square dance workshop or a play in which one of her own is playing a lead. She may attend a new bake sale in honor of a charity for less fortunate folks or help out at a Waco Storytellers' Guild event. She makes it a point too to learn jokes, tells them well, and endeavors to relate a new one each time she gets together with her exercise classes, often repeating them as well among visitors at her home.
Julia lives on her own and still drives locally where she needs to go. When health issues keep her at home, she does not let it get her down for long but assigns herself certain tasks she will accomplish that day, usually accompanied by a special, home-cooked meal, or at least a creative smoothie with lots of nutritious, tasty, and fresh ingredients.
And tomorrow? Who knows? Yet for my mom and those in her wide circle, it will be a special day!
*"...as God is my witness, they're not going to lick me. I'm going to live through this and when it's all over, I'll never be hungry again. No, nor any of my folk. If I have to lie, steal, cheat or kill. As God is my witness, I'll never be hungry again."
A quote from the character Scarlett in the movie and book, "Gone With the Wind."