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Happy 90th Birthday, Mom!

Tracey Columns

Today is my incredible mother’s 90th birthday!

While some physical issues could be easier for her, she is mentally quite sharp. She pays close attention to the current political circus, loves to stay up to date on world events, and has maintained a wonderful sense of humor. She is beloved by friends and family and holds a very special place in my children’s hearts.

What a life she’s had. In 1927, her hard working mother and “crazy” father drove a Model A all the way from West Virginia to to San Diego. From the way my Granny always told the story, they slept wherever they could, ate rattlesnakes my grandfather shot, and generally had a truly awful time. Granny would say, “it’s good your mother was a baby. It was a miserable trip.”

Apparently, my grandfather was a sketchy character and in nothing flat, my Granny was raising my mother single-handedly. A grocery checker at the local Piggly Wiggly, she was good natured, though single-minded and tough, never one to shy away from life just because her ‘no good husband skedaddled,” as she liked to say.

My mother was a real beauty. (She still is.) Exceptionally tall, she had perfect posture, a fresh, beautiful face, and lush, glossy, shoulder-length curls. As a kid, I once saw a glam photo of Rita Hayworth. I swear, my mother could have been her sister!

A championship tennis player, she quietly and humbly won numerous  tournaments all over San Diego. One of my most favorite photos of her is a group shot with other young tennis players. Decked out in her tennis togs, she is tan, strong, fit, and has a radiant smile. I always appreciated that she’d had a brief but successful time on the tennis courts. There was something about that piece of her history that intrigued me. I used to imagine her strength, how she’d throw herself into every match, mapping out her game strategy for the win. I think this may be how I managed to develop my own problem solving abilities and I am grateful these traits somehow rubbed off on me.

Another memorable story from her youth was when she was Homecoming Queen. My grandmother certainly didn’t have the money to buy her a formal gown but, creative thinker that my mother was, she borrowed a dress from her best friend. The only problem? My mother was about ten inches taller than her dear friend. Her solution? When riding on the float in the Homecoming parade she never stood up!

Soon after graduating, the Homecoming Queen would meet and marry her rival high school’s star basketball player. They met at a beach party and my father, a dynamic and charming young man with a full head of red hair, swept her off her feet. The only problem was that the poor guy was simply never cutout for marriage.

Eventually they would divorce and she would do exactly what her mother had done, raise two kids on a shoestring budget. But thanks to her grit and good humor, she  carried all of us through.

Just imagine what it took for her to pack up two young children and a few belongings into a 1951 Ford, drive 800 miles away, to work 16 hours a day at a ski lodge in the Sierra Nevada mountains. We lived in a two room cabin, had a wood burning stove, bathed in the big laundry sink in the lodge’s basement, and ate with all of the employees in the staff dining room. My brother and I were in heaven, free to roam wherever we wanted, while my poor mother worked her fingers to the bone managing the desk, cleaning rooms and cabins, and handling the books. Talk about grit!

Fortunately, things would eventually get a little easier for her. We returned to San Diego and my mother became surely the most well liked checker at a large grocery store. (Her line was always the longest because yes, she was just that friendly!) A relentlessly hard worker, she helped both of her children get their college educations. Always an exceptional grandmother, in her sixties she re-married and for many years traveled the globe with her husband.

Life isn’t particularly easy at 90 for anyone. But I have to say that my mother’s grace, tenacity, and kind heart continue to help her through the journey. We are all so grateful for who she is and what she has given us.

Happy Birthday, Mom! I love you!