A very important birthday

We’ve been very busy on this trip so far, which is why you haven’t heard much from me.  Between concerts, classes, seeing family members, driving between stops, and making a new class sample, it’s been pretty busy. But a very important family event happend on the weekend that I want to tell you about.

My Aunt Jean was my mother’s older sister.  She married Charlie, a tall, handsome man from Cleveland Ohio in the 1930s when she was working as a nurse there.  My mother and their other sister visited not long after she met Charlie, and Jean introduced Dorothy to Charlie’s brother, Joe.  They all got married and lived happily ever after in Cleveland. My mom went home and married my dad and stayed Canadian.

Jean is the only sibling left.  She never smoked, she lived a life of moderation (except I heard about some “wild” parties they used to have!!!) and she kept fit her whole life.  Tomorrow will be her 100th birthday, and the whole family celebrated this last weekend.

Aunt Jean and her daughter-in-law Mary

Jean still lives on her own, and has very few complaints.  She has someone else make her meals now, and doesn’t drive any more, but she tells me she still keeps a bowl of hand weights by the door and picks them up whenever she walks by.  She’s amazing, and it was wonderful to be there to celebrate her life.

What do you get for a 100 year old?  They are busy clearing out their stuff, if they haven’t done so already.  They don’t want anything they can’t use, and they usually have that all figured out too.  Apart from lots of hugs and conversations, it’s hard to know what an appropriate gift is for such an auspicious occasion.  All I could do is give from the heart, using the skills I have.

No, not a quilt: a SONG!

I had a lot of help from other family members to learn all the things Jean did in her life, her loves, her hobbies, her favourite music.  I took it all with me when I left Victoria, and had a day to write it when we were visiting my brother last week.  It turned out well, based on the jazz standard “In the Mood”.  The chorus is:

What’s your secret?
For living such a long, full life?
What’s your secret?
What a girl, what a woman, what a life!

It’s called “The Girl From Paisley” (yes, that’s Paisley Ontario!), because that’s where she was born.  The song was well received; people even sang along by the last chorus!

Then my brother John got up with a framed “Letter from the Queen”.  If you’re a citizen of the Commonwealth, on your 100th birthday you are eligible to receive an official letter from Queen Elizabeth II.  Alas, Jean relinquished her Canadian citizenship many years ago – but John thought she still deserved a letter.  It’s amazing what you can get on the internet:  John was able to find the Queen’s actual signature, and coat of arms, and he put together a hilarious letter with Her Highness wondering what Jean’s secret was (a wonderful bit of synchronicity with my song), and ending with a suggested she get in touch about those back taxes…..!!!

This birthday has me thinking about getting older.  I still feel very young, of course, and perhaps Jean does too.  The years creep up so quickly and silently and I’m certain the 100th came as a surprise to her.  There’s a Rodin sculpture called “La Belle Heaulmiere” – the old courtesan – which Stan Rogers wrote a song about.  His line “the pretty maiden trapped inside the ranch wife’s toil and care” speaks of how a woman always feels young, even when the flesh ages. The concept has always touched me deeply.

Right now, I’m just hoping that I have inherited some of my Aunt Jean’s genes – growing old gracefully with a lot of class and elegance.  Now, to work on that elegance part……

Enjoy every day.  Life is an incredible voyage, and vastly preferable to the alternative.

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3 Responses to “A very important birthday”

  1. Fran Mason Says:

    wonderful story, Cathy! Congratulations to your aunt on such an incredible feat. She looks so young!

  2. Michelle Says:

    What a great smile your aunt has! And what an amazing effort to live to 100 and still look so bloody fabulous!

    After my near-death thing 6 months ago, I have completely changed my attitude to life. I’ve realised how important people are to me, and how a day spent being miserable is a wasted day. I want to impart smiles on everyone I meet! Hopefully I will die smiling.

    • singingquilter Says:

      Yes, Michelle – she’s pretty spectacular. I’m so proud of her!

      You have gone through a lot, and I’m interested to hear about your new attitude. I’m sure it changed everything. I’m also sure you will die smiling, my friend! (but not for a long, long time)

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