November 7th is the birthday of my “fine and beautiful” mother, Millie. She would have been eighty-two years old, which seems crazy to me. She died nine years ago on Thanksgiving morning, her favorite holiday of the year—it still feels like it was yesterday.
I say “fine and beautiful” because she was just that, and she wasn’t afraid to tell you so. I invite you to share in a memory with an excerpt from my book, “Millie’s Butterflies.”
My thoughts wandered back to my childhood and my mother once again—what seemed to be an hourly occurrence since Kate’s phone call. I found her to be unusual, different from all the other moms. I remembered how each time she was asked, “How are you, Millie?” I would cringe at her free-spirited response of, “I’m fine and beautiful. And you?”
One day I asked her about her signature reply. “Mom, why do you always tell people you’re beautiful? It’s, um, sort of embarrassing to me.”
She shook her bushy blond mane that fell just beneath the nape of her neck and grasped my shoulders. Her lips were plump with red lipstick, something she never left home without.
“Carly, Carly, Carly,” she said. “I am fine and beautiful. And so are you. Beautiful doesn’t always refer to how a person looks. It’s what’s inside your heart and soul, and it’s how you treat life and other people.” She tilted her head to one side and continued, “It’s really just my way of having an optimistic outlook on life.”
She was fair and, at five-feet, seven-inches tall and 132 pounds, she was thin. I saw her as pretty and I couldn’t imagine anyone seeing her any differently. I continued to gaze at her in sort of a trance. It was difficult, at the tender age of nine, to digest what she had said. I didn’t fully comprehend it, but she had definitely planted a seed.
...and the seed grew from there.
Life is fine and beautiful and there is always a bright side, if you choose to see it. It has become her legacy—fine and beautiful Millie.
My mom was a special lady, as most mothers are. My sisters and I have never doubted how fortunate we were to have been raised by her and my dad. We didn’t have everything, but we were given unconditional love and values that have been instilled in us. Because of her, we’ve accepted each other for who we are—as dysfunctional as that may be at times, and we continue to stay in touch.
We honor and carry on her traditions, grandkids included. Two granddaughters shared November birthdays with Millie. They continue to celebrate their birthdays together, remembering their grandmother and knowing in their hearts that she is still with them.
Shortly after Mom passed, I found myself dreading her birthday. I hated feeling so sad knowing that wouldn’t be what she wanted and I tried to find the bright side. I decided to invite my sisters to join in on a conference call honoring her birthday. The call has become a cathartic tradition. It is filled with good energy, tears and laughter. We each take a minute (timed, of course, as some sisters can be chatty) to say whatever we feel. Sometimes we'll have a theme. One favorite is sharing one or two of her signature sayings like; “There’s a bright side to everything,” or, “If it were a dog, it would have jumped out and bit you!” or, “There are three sides to every story, his, hers and the truth.”
Sometimes we’ll sing a favorite tune of hers—“You are my Sunshine, my only sunshine, you make me happy when skies are grey. You’ll never know dear how much I love you, so please don’t take my sunshine away.
I’m looking forward to this year’s call. Happy Birthday Mom.