|Darlene's first birthday|
Today is my 49th birthday.
Mom never phoned me on my birthday because I always called her first. This ritual began when my son Laurie (her first grandchild) was about eight years-old.
Every year on January 17th, since 1986, I go to bed and remember in vivid detail the night before Laurie was born. My water broke just before midnight. I remember sitting at the kitchen table as the early pangs of labour started, my overnight bag sitting in the hallway. It was the coldest January 17th on record, so as we waited for the car to warm up, I drank a full litre of juice, knowing that once I got to the hospital there would be nothing more to eat or drink until after the baby was born. I'd been so thirsty up until then that l dreaded the thought. My damp pants froze almost instantly as we walked from the house to the car. I wasn't worried that the child was coming nearly a month early, all I could do was remind myself over and over again that every person in the world had been born by a woman just like me. I could do it. Laurie was born at 7:50 a.m. the next morning.
Years later, when Laurie was old enough, when asked what we should do to celebrate my birthday, he'd stop and think for a few moments. Then his face would light up. His reply still makes me smile.
"I know," he'd say. "Let's pick up Nolan and go to Chicken Chef for supper."
Growing up, Nolan Thage was his best friend and Chicken Chef in Ashern was his favourite place to eat. Those were fun times. By the time Laurie was old enough to realize that it was time to stop blowing out the candles on my birthday cake, I understood that there was someone else who was remembering that day.
So I started phoning Mom on my birthday to wish her a happy day.
"Afterall," I said the first time I called, "you're the one who deserves congratulations."
My last conversation with her was on January 6th.
"Happy day, happy day!" she said cheerfully when she answered the phone. She was in high spirits, reminiscing about how 42 years earlier, she'd given birth to my little sister, Darlene, who was supposed to be a New Year's baby, but false labour sent Mom home from the hospital.
"But you know your sister, she's always late," she laughed. "She tortured me for another week, but when she was born, because she was overdue, she looked beautiful. Her skin was plump and pink, she was so content - huge dimples - the most beautiful baby in the nursery."
I asked her about the rest of us, even though I'd heard the story many times before.
"You were little and wrinkly and cried all the time. I didn't know what to do with you. Your brother Mark looked like a monkey, honestly, he was an ugly little thing, it was kind of embarrassing. And Nance, well, she came so fast I nearly had her in the hallway."
I reminded her that next year, I'd be turning 50. Curious, I asked how that made her feel.
"How does it make ME feel, I don't care, you're the one who's getting old!" she laughed, missing the point entirely.
We talked for over an hour, mostly about plans for Laurie and Dayna's upcoming wedding. She and Paul planned to come; we'd pick them up at the airport and I'd book them a room at the Narrows Lodge. It would be a lot of fun. But in the back of my mind I knew that Paul's health had been failing, that maybe he wouldn't be able to make the trip.
The last thing my mother said to me was this:
"Your only son is getting married that day. You stand up there with your head high and be proud of what you've accomplished. You raised a fine son. Always remember that I am your mother. Make me proud."
Almost as if she knew.
Thanks Mom, for everything.
Happy, happy day.