My mom would have turned 95 today.
She was born on a Friday the 13th, and regarded 13 as her lucky number. She was always especially pleased when her birthday fell, as it does this year, on a Friday.
She also would have been pleased to reach a milestone birthday. After a certain age, all birthdays are milestones, but the ones ending in zeros and fives draw a bit of extra attention. And despite her unassuming nature—blending into the background was something of her specialty—my mom never minded having a bit of fuss made over her birthday.
Since her birthday was the day before Valentine’s Day, over the years she was feted with a lot of lopsided, garishly-frosted, heart-themed cakes. I hope there weren’t many years when she was left with a pile of messy bowls and beaters by a daughter whose interest in baking did not extend to the clean-up phase, but I’m sure there were a few.
In 2000, when she turned 80, her birthday fell on a Sunday, and my siblings and I pulled off an elaborate two-day surprise event. We told her that those of us who lived nearby would take her out to dinner on Saturday evening, then surprised her at the restaurant with a small crowd that included all five of us, plus some of her grandchildren.
The next day, while she sat in church, enjoying a few birthday greetings from friends and probably thinking that it had been a nice party, if a bit understated for an 80th birthday celebration, we worked frantically just below the sanctuary. We decorated the basement function room with crepe paper and balloons, brought in platters of food and an enormous cake, and greeted out-of-town family and friends who arrived to fill the space while the church service continued upstairs.
When she was brought downstairs after church, the party was a complete surprise to her. It was a wonderful event, blending her church family and the dozens of local children she had babysat over the years with her brothers and sister-in-law, nieces and nephews, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and lifelong friends.
At the time, my mom was vigorous and healthy (she would celebrate her 81st birthday, the following year, while on a three-week tour of Australia and New Zealand with a high school friend), and none of us would have guessed that it would be her last milestone birthday—or, at least, the last one to end in a zero or five.
I’m glad we got to have that celebration, and I wish I were in the kitchen right now, making her a lop-sided, garishly-frosted, heart-themed cake to celebrate turning 95.
I’d even wash my own dishes.