Note: Mrs. J’s funeral is tomorrow, and I can’t think of a better way to describe her and how much we cared about her than this post from 7 years ago.
Today was our neighbor’s 90th birthday – a milestone that we figured deserved a celebration. We started talking about what to do months ago, but being the eternal procrastinator that I am, I didn’t start pulling things together until three days ago. Somehow, I was able to plan a surprise birthday party in a town 25 miles away that not only included decorations, but also 14 of her family members and friends. To say that I’m proud of myself would be an understatement, but enough about me. This was an evening to celebrate a phenomenal woman and to reflect on all the ways she’s impacted those around her.
Mrs. J is like a surrogate great-grandmother to me. She was there when I was a child living in the house on the other side of her, and she’s been here ever since I moved back to the neighborhood. She loves me like I am one of her family, and never hesitates to express those sentiments to those that actually share her DNA. She even gets a kick out of thinking it makes them a little jealous.
She feeds me homemade fried chicken, sweet potatoes, and chocolate pie. She joins in my complaining about everything from the price of gasoline to how long it’s been since we’ve had rain. She never backs down on something she believes in, no matter how archaic or irrelevant it might seem decades later.
She thinks people show too much skin on television and talk too dirty, but she never misses her favorite soap opera (she calls them “stories”). She met and immediately liked my female pastor, but told me that women shouldn’t be preachers. She doesn’t believe in interracial relationships, but she’s going to vote for a biracial presidential candidate. She tells me that she doesn’t care about “how I am,” while complaining about the declining values of other Americans.
She loves to watch movies, even though it’s easy to tell that she has no idea how a DVD works. She seems somewhat fascinated by computers, although it’s clear that she doesn’t understand how the internet works. She laughs at me for constantly swapping cell phones as she pushes the buttons on her clunky handset that doesn’t have caller ID. She didn’t even get touch tone on her phone service until a few years ago because it was going to add $1 to her monthly bill.
She worries that tree roots are attacking the foundation of her house and that moles are destroying the foundation of her detached garage. She worries that her copper pipes are leaking and frequently has one of us check the water meter for unexplained dial movement.
She never ever stops working in the yard, even though her doctors, nurses, and physical therapists have all joined in chorus to tell her to stay in the house and use her walker at all times. She can work a hoe better than most people 50 years her junior and she has the arm muscle to prove it. She cleans house like the Queen’s coming over, with particular chores assigned to particular days.
She keeps leftover vegetables in the freezer and combines them when she has enough to make soup. She makes fabulous fried green tomatoes and a mean pan of cornbread. She keeps soft drinks in the refrigerator just because she knows we like them.
So tonight we celebrated this incredible lady; her quirks, her contradictions, her passion, and her compassion. We expressed our affection with song and brightly-colored helium balloons, with strawberry cake and cards and presents – all a feeble attempt to make her feel as special as she makes any one of us feel on a daily basis.
If her smiles were any indication, we did.