Each year I place a little pot of shamrocks in the center of our old pine table, the very same kitchen table I grew up with. My mother placed a pot of shamrocks there herself each year, part of the celebration of St. Patrick's Day.
This year I found a purple Oxalis 'Shamrock'.
At our house though, the celebration had a little different focus, for not only was it St. Patrick's Day, but it was my mother's birthday. St. Pat's Day, as we teased.
Mom arrived in this world as Caroline, in March 1916, but she adopted the name Pat at some point in her teenage years, in honor of her holiday birthday. Many years later when I asked her, thinking of a Saturday Night Live skit (remember "Pat"?), why in the world would she trade in a pretty name like Caroline, she had an interesting reply.
"That was such an old-fashioned name back then. Pat was a name that evoked a new generation to me, women were bobbing their hair in the Twenties, shortening their skirts, gaining independence..."
I was born in 1960. This conversation was only one of the many reminders of how far apart our worlds were during the years we each grew up.
Crowds of cards arrived for Mom's birthdays from locations near and far, most of them festooned with leprechauns and clovers. She would cut out handmade shamrocks from green construction paper, one for her, one for me, to pin on our shirts for the day, saying, "The leprechauns will pinch you if you're not wearing green."
She was a bit of a leprechaun herself with her grand height of 4'11" -- and 3/4! -- at her tallest.
By her later years, she was more like 4'7", but she still had a leprechaun's sense of mischief, a good sense of humor, and she seemed to me to have the luck of the Irish, without one drop of Irish blood. Looking back, I see how she made her own luck with her love of people and fun, although she could also be exasperatingly absent-minded (read: A.D.D.), another legacy she left her children.
Mom was outgoing, social, and charming -- both of my parents were. The fondest memories I have as a child are of their parties: a gathering of people, laughter, cocktail ice clinking, the sparkle in my mother's eye when she was "on".
Mom at age three or so with the neighbor boy, on the farm in upstate New York, circa 1919. Her sparkling eyes and contagious grin were evident even then.
Sometimes I wonder if my mother's personality was shaped by her birth date as much as her name was, for in America, this holiday IS just a party.
The best part of her love of a gathering with laughter was that her kind of fun was mostly a healthy kind. While there was always a stocked bar at our house growing up, she only partook of it modestly, that I ever knew of. The bar was for company, that's what she did live for, and it was there for the parties. The only addiction I say she had during my childhood and youth was an addiction for the spotlight. A small bit of Narcissa and her fascinating reflection.
As a teenager, directing already... (where in the world is she?)
There is much to be inspired by when thinking of Mom, she was smart, hard working, curious, thrifty, and amusing. She was also quite tart with her opinionated, sharp tongue. I like that she was a good writer, and a not bad artist, but she'd like to be remembered as a successful real estate broker, a devoutly liberal Episcopalian, an active and involved volunteer in Atlanta in the Seventies and Eighties, and an all around good sport. She was all of those.
However, as she told me over and over later in life, she was not much of a nurturing mother, although we knew she loved us. She never had a strong urge for children, she said. That was always very clear to this youngest of her four offspring. The ramifications of her producing babies only because that's what women did then run deeply for me. But that side of her is for another day...or not...
Today, I celebrate this mom of mine and her zest for life. She would be 95 years old this year, an age she made very clear she did not want to reach, and she didn't.
Sometimes though, I wish she had.
This is the first party I remember my parents going to, I had just turned five when this photo was taken. The neighbors were all getting together for a costume party, we lived in Texas then: my father was the Card Dealer, my mother the Saloon Girl. Part of the joke was her greying hair, which she never dyed.
The neighbors and fellow partiers were the Cards.
Her love of parties and costume began before I was born. Here, in the Fifties, she went to a Roaring Twenties party. Mom is in her element there in the front, on the right. She still smoked then...
I wish I could find the photo of my parents when they went to their last costume party together. The theme was Commercials. My father went as Mr. Clean, of the Ajax commercial, my mother went as the old Clairol hair dye, "Does She or Doesn't She?" campaign. Mom wore a wide headband that separated her white hair in front as bangs, from a fall of black hair in back. She knew how to get a laugh.
Soon after my father died in 1971, she went to this party as a One-armed Paper Hanger, a joke I remember my father saying fairly often. "That guy is as useless as a one-armed paper hanger." I think she looks lonely, like she's putting on a brave face for this first costume party alone.
One day, when I was in my twenties and had moved out of the house, I got a call from Mom. "I'm going to a party tonight and have nothing at all that will work for my costume. Can you come over with some of your clothes?" Below is the result. I still smile that I was included in the preparations for this one...and for the record, I never wore those hot pink Madonna gloves I bought !
I remember mentioning to her at the time that she was the only Punk in the world with a tucked-in shirt...but she just couldn't leave that shirt untucked. Costumery only goes so far.
My favorite photos of all though, are from a surprise party for a good family friend, and neighbor, in Atlanta. It was the friend's fortieth birthday, her husband called my mother and asked if she would consider being the biggest surprise: The Forties Fairy.
Mom was game.
I was away at college at the time -- I so wish I'd seen this in person !
The Forties Fairy enters with tinkling bell,
flits and floats around the room, then bestows fairy dust...
...and hugs, for an overcome new member of the Forties Club.
Wouldn't the Forties be easier to take with this hilarious fairy at your party?
My Mom died in 2002, but the St. Patrick's Day birthday celebration is still around. My husband's father's birthday is also St. Patrick's Day. He's another one of a kind, wonderful human.
Happy birthday Mom and "Dad" !
MARCH 16, 2011 9:15PM