Wednesday, February 01, 2006

65 years ago today

a precious little girl was born into a loving family. And she grew up to become a teacher, role model, community pillar, friend, moral compass, survivor … and a living example of the powers of unconditional love.

And a mother. She also grew up to become my mother.

Actually, these words describe both my parents—heck, they describe my entire family—but it’s my mom’s birthday today so she gets to take center stage.

We kid my mom a lot. Probably too much, but she’s a pretty good sport about it. You see, she collects things. Grocery bags. Old butter tubs. Styrofoam cups. Expired boxes of Jell-O®. (She’s still applying for the funding to open a Jell-O® Museum.) Opening a cupboard in her kitchen can often become a literal shower—assuming you embraced the cleaning powers of gently used plastic containers.

But the little piles of things she likes to accumulate make a great metaphor for the less stackable accumulations that fill her life: A tight-knit family of truly best friends. The interlacing circles of lifelong friends who extend that family to both coasts. The network of former students and colleagues and board members and fellow volunteers and cancer survivors and their families who make it impossible for her to go anywhere and be a stranger.

Most importantly, her children and grandchildren, who will someday look back with fondness and profound appreciation as her daily examples of love and sacrifice and friendship and respect continue to drive their decisions and move their lives forward in productive, meaningful ways.

Mom (and Dad) have set valuable examples for my sister and me, extending as far back as I can remember:

• We have regularly volunteered as a family at soup kitchens and invited people to join us for the holidays who would otherwise be alone.

• Mom and Dad have quietly helped countless people in need, doing everything from paying for other kids’ school supplies and clothes to hiring a frail old cleaning lady who needed her dignity more than we needed her meager services to housing a neighbor girl when her family situation became unhealthy.

• Mom and Dad have also taken great care of their own parents and siblings (possibly as karmic insurance against my sister and me stashing them in a refrigerator box by a river when they finally reach their dotage).

• Mom has weathered a host of maladies from a detached retina to breast cancer with dignity and grace and humor. In fact, her prosthesis (It’s a giant nose! It’s a fart machine! It’s a flying boob!) has provided us with hours of inappropriate fun.

• When a friend’s elderly mother was brutally murdered, my parents swooped in to offer every bit of support and assistance they could—my dad and I even helped clean up the murder scene after the police released it to the family.

• When their only son turned out to be a big homo, they worked to unlearn the lifetime of prejudice they had been taught, eventually treating my sexuality as the unremarkable trait that it is.

• When I first set out on my own, Mom let me have the car with air conditioning while she drove the oven on four wheels. Which was a HUGE sacrifice in an Iowa summer.

I think you get the picture.

So happy birthday, Mom! And thanks for everything. You are an inspiration, a source of pride and a friend.

I love you.

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