It takes a long, long time to qualify as a nonagenarian. Right around ninety years, if my math is correct (although it rarely is…)
My mother-in-law, Phyllis, was born in 1922, the year that Ulysses was published and the Eskimo Pie was patented. On the day of her birth, the U.S. defeated Australasia in the seventeenth Davis Cup, perhaps sparking the trajectory of her long time love of the game of tennis.
We’ve had some fun bashes through the years for Phyllis’ birthday. One year there were limos, balloons and a private room at Cava restaurant. Lately she has preferred more sedate celebrations. This year we toasted her 93rd on a beautiful late summer evening at the charming Stella Mares restaurant.
Every year is a little bit different, but one thing is always the same: her daughter, Gail, faithfully makes the journey from Missoula, Montana and somehow wheedles the TSA folks into letting her on the plane with a frozen block of homemade pesto sauce that comes from her summer garden planted with rows of garlic and basil. No surprise that Gail is a great cook – she learned from the best!
Gail and I, hopeful for sage advice on this tricky business of aging, asked Phyllis for her thoughts on achieving ninety-three tours around the sun. Lesson One, apparently, is not to be overly introspective, because Phyllis was initially non-plussed at the question. A paraphrase of her eventual answer to our query gave us Lesson Two; take life as it comes and don’t be envious of others.
She has certainly learned to take life as it comes. I’ve heard lots of stories of the family’s early forays between Minnesota and California as her husband, Lyle, climbed the corporate ladder. Two rowdy boys, the CE and brother Mark, and possibly-rowdier caboose, Gail, kept Phyllis busy through the sixties and seventies.
It was during those years that her fame began to accumulate for what I will call Lesson Number Three: bake, and everyone will love you. The CE remembers waking as a young boy to the scent of cinnamon and blueberries wafting from the kitchen where Phyllis had homemade coffee cake awaiting the kids for breakfast. Today, all five of her great-grandchildren regard Granny’s homemade sweet rolls as their favorite treat.
While Phyllis will be the first to tell you she has had a blessed life, it hasn’t always been easy. Her can-do approach to life challenges has helped us all learn Lesson Four: be tough and have a sense of humor.
That philosophy came in handy this year when Phyllis took a spill and broke her hip. She amazed her doctors, her caregivers and her family with her spectacular recovery. Through this, we learned Lesson Five: be heroic!
Of course, it helps to have a good support system, which brings us to Lesson Six: raise caring children. The CE, brother Mark, and sister Gail all get gold stars in that category.
Lesson Seven: keep busy! The CE often mentions how hard it can be to get on Granny’s calendar. Bridge, senior lunch, music club, etc. There she is, using a walker and we still can’t keep up!
Happy birthday, Phyllis – we all look forward to many more years of lessons and sweet rolls from you. Next stop: ninety-four!