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June, 2016

Always a Special Day

by Larry

I was for nearly eight years an only child. When I was little, my mom made me feel, each day, that it was a special day, that there was always abundant reason right here and right now to be full of joy, laughter, wonder, curiosity, and love. We were not a rich family, and coming out of the recent Great Depression my folks, Leon and Julia, were so careful with their money that even on a small military family income they were determined to save and invest a large proportion of it. Thus, the meager early earnings were more frugally distributed than they really had to be. Yet, with my mom's culinary creativity and plenty of canned Spam, tuna fish, soups, ravioli in flavored sauce, tamales, Vienna sausages, and milk, plus the ice cream made from fresh snow, eggs provided by the several chickens that fed themselves on bugs in our yard, delicious home grown veggies from our Victory Garden, pounds and pounds of peanut butter, rabbits for frying or stewing, and Mom's baking penchant, even on the hottest days in FL, TX, VA, NE, or GA, there were oodles of ways that each day, sure enough once again, could become exceptional.

Julia with a couple of her and Leon's chickens, in the yard at their place in Tampa, FL, in 1942.
Later on, Mom became pregnant with my sister, born when I was a little older than seven and a half. My dad made sure I knew how special this was while Mom remained at hospital. Then, when she and Mom showed up back home, boy did we ever all focus on how cute and beautiful she was and how great it would be to have a caring big brother to teach her and have fun times with her!?

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.
Halloween, family gatherings, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's, 2-J Hamburgers, Valentine's Day, Kentucky Fried Chicken, 4th of July, petting zoos, Easter celebrations, and so on. Mom was not particularly religious, yet she honored in major ways any traditional days of hope, light, and love that she could and made sure we celebrated them with her.

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!

*" 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."

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