My mom at about age 18.
It began as a dream...Why not celebrate my mom’s 80th in her hometown of New Orleans, Louisiana, on her January 7 birthday? My sister Laura and I proposed the idea to Mom and she agreed that it would probably not move beyond dream stage, given my father’s mental awareness progressively dimming due to the effects of Alzheimers, and the fact that her original seven children live all over the country, presenting logistical challenges (not to mention financial ones!). It had been over 30 years since our whole family had been in Louisiana together and none of our children had ever been there with their grandparents. It seemed like a “Trip to Bountiful” moment in family history that we couldn’t let escape, so we forged ahead.
On January 7, the dream came true. Our whole original family gathered in New Orleans at Arnaud’s Restaurant to help my mom turn 80. :) That was the beginning of four days of partying...but more than that, it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to connect the generations with history and heritage woven through the strands of DNA unique to this family line.
My mom’s life story reflects God’s faithfulness to a beautiful young woman who wasn’t introduced to Him personally until she was in her early twenties and already married with several children. Raised in a loving home, the youngest of four with three older brothers, my mom’s world was rocked when her mother died of complications following food poisoning. Only twelve at the time, she was shuttled off to live with an aunt who was none too pleased to have her there, so my mom’s grief was doubled that year. She was motherless, and she was unwanted. Hard times in life either make or break us, and my mom’s life is mark by her consistent choice to let difficulties make her. A deep strength was forged in the furnace of loss and grief, and that strength has served my mom well over the almost 62 years of her marriage, which spawned seven children.
She attended St. Scholasticas Academy, a boarding school in Covington, Louisiana. Not long after graduating from SSA and enrolling in college, she met and married my dad. She was 18. He was 20. And both were ill-prepared for marriage. Fortunately, they belonged to a generation that believed marriage is a covenant, so they were committed to their vows.
My parents exchange wedding vows in the Napolean Street home of her grandparents. She was 18, he was 20. (As marriage counselors, we wouldn’t have recommended it!)
She never dreamed then that she would give birth to seven children (that would’ve probably seemed like a nightmare!), or that her husband would accept a commission in the US Navy which would launch his career on a path that would eventually promote him to the rank of Rear Admiral. She never envisioned being a physically single parent for month upon month, as her Naval officer husband defended our country on the high seas, or on land - wherever he was commanded to serve. She couldn’t imagine losing her second parent--her dad--by the time she was thirty-five.
Six of the seven children have arrived by 1959. And yes, she made all of those dresses!!!
Truth be told, she never saw herself keeping house and cooking meals for seven hungry children (really, our home was not unlike a day care center, though all the attendees were her own children) day in and day out for too many years to mention.
#7, The Boy, arrived in 1961 and the rest, as they say, is history.
Who knows how the story of her life would’ve gone had she not encountered Jesus! In her mid-twenties, while stationed in Panama, my parents went to a revival meeting--and both had a life-changing experience with Christ that night. They said “Yes!” to Jesus, and that’s made all the difference.
My mom’s life verse is “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13). As her children and grandchildren, nieces and nephews, brother, sister-in-law, and cousins gathered to honor her on January 9 at an unforgettable gala in New Orleans, tribute upon tribute was given her of the ways her life had positively impacted each. Over 80 people dismissed excuses and showed up for her. It was an expression of their love and gratitude for a lady who had loved them well through the years.
Her own children “rose up and called her blessed!” Each spoke from a verse in Proverbs 31, affirming her many gifts and gestures which uniquely qualify her to be a virtuous woman. Though memories can be kind to the unkind moments of life, the video of my mom’s life captures her love for her Lord, her husband, her children, her extended family, and any others appointed to join this cast of characters of the stage of life. It captures her compassion, her kindness, her hard work, and her choice of gratitude and joy.
The originals....oldest to youngest..over a span of 12 years...Lucy, Sue, Francene, Virginia, Melissa, Laura, and Frank, III.
And so she was duly honored...at Arnauds on Thursday night, at the Astor Crowne Plaza on Saturday, at the Black Orchid Restaurant (owned and operated by her nephew Billy and his family) on Sunday, and at Rips, a restaurant in Old Mandeville, on Monday - hosted by her dear brother Don. In between the parties, there were trips to Cafe du Monde for those matchless beignets and delicious cafe au lait, there were gatherings in my parent’s suite, aka “Party Central”, and there were tours through the neighborhoods memorable and significant to my mom’s growing up years. There were great meals and great after meals. Eighty-year-old Esther boogied down Bourbon Street to a jazz club around 10 one night...I could barely keep up with her. And that image of her will never leave my mind’s eye.
Thanks for indulging me this non-H.I.M.-related blog. Well, actually...it is H.I.M.-related, because this remarkable woman is my mom, and much of who I am today is related to who she is today and who she has been in my life. I will ever be grateful for a mom who didn’t quit (even when the temptation was really strong) and who never let us think it was because of her strength, but rather His. Now that’s a legacy that by the grace of God, I will pass on to my children.
My parents at their 50th wedding anniversary celebration.
And at the big party on Saturday, Jan. 9. Happy 80th, Mom!