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Queen of the Tribe

I have shared much of my life with you in the stories I’ve written, and I want to tell you about my mom.

Her name is Carolyn and she’ll be 87 in about 10 days.  She married young, but has been a widow for the past 25 years.  She has lived in the same house for the past 42 years, near the mountains of SC.  She goes to the gym a couple times a week for “Silver Sneakers” workout time, but she can’t drive herself anymore, as of 2010.  We insisted that she take an actual driving test in 2009, all the while dreading the expected failure because we were sure life as we knew it would end if she couldn’t drive.  But, alas, she passed with flying colors that year, and her little half-smirk/half-smile told us what she thought about that.   But just a year later, in tears, she handed over the keys at our request; she knew we were just trying to keep her and the other people on the road safe. The hardest thing for her and for the rest of us to get used to these days is that she can’t remember details.  So, almost everything we ask her, the answer is the same, “I don’t know,” or “I just don’t remember.”  Then she smiles sweetly and tells us that she doesn’t like this any better than we do.

I am the oldest of 6 children; there are 4 girls and 2 boys.  There are 14 grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren.  Including spouses and stepchildren accumulated along the way, there are 54 people in our immediate family.  It’s a genuine tribe.  For special events, we have to plan outdoor activities and hope the weather cooperates.  A few summers ago, we rented a lodge with 10 cabins and a large dining hall and commercial kitchen, for almost a week.  We even had a wedding for one of my nieces there on Saturday night and didn’t even have to bring in outside help — my son is a pastor and did the ceremony; my daughter is a profressional musician and did all the music; one niece is an extraordinary wedding planner and decorator; my sister’s then-boyfriend  owns a Greek restaurant and he cooked the wedding dinner on site; my husband is a photographer…and the list goes on.  There are benefits to having a large family!  Two more nephews are commercial audio engineers, and they set up the finest sound system ever, and we danced and did karaoke until we literally fell over with exhaustion.  Even the small children stayed up VERY late and dropped into a deep sleep one by one onto air mattresses that we had put into the corners of the large dining/dancing hall in the main lodge to catch them as they fell.  We didn’t even bother to move them…they woke up the next morning just in time for breakfast.

My mother sat in the middle of all this like a queen.   She was my dad’s queen for 42 years and now, she’s our queen, sans the king…with a bunch of rowdy princes and princesses.

She is a very loving mother and she has devoted her whole life to nurturing babies and then caring for her children as we grew.  None of us have even come close to living our lives as mother has lived hers.  In some respects, our ways are better and in some ways, they’re poorer.   But, as I say so often, “It is what it is.”   I don’t connect on every level with my mother, and I know she looks at me sometimes and wonders if she really gave birth to me — after all, she was SO conventional and proper and I’ve been anything but.  But there’s one thing I can say absolutely:  “I have been loved unconditionally every day of my life on this earth.”   And so has she.  It’s a good deal.  My children can say the same, and I tell them every year, “Thanks for the cards and the presents and phone calls, but for me, EVERY DAY IS MOTHER’S DAY with kids like you!”

And now, I’m going to stop writing and call my mother…