We are celebrating my mother’s 90th birthday today. Her mother lived to be ninety-six; good genes.
My mother still does her own grocery shopping, cooks her own meals and takes care of her house. She loves to play cards, and every summer she plants and harvests a large garden. She still drives and even cleans her own gutters. A few weeks ago, she shoveled snow. Until a few years ago, she walked three miles a day, six days a week.
She is indomitable and fiercely independent. I once called her stubborn—only once. “I am not stubborn,” she admonished sternly. “I just know what I want,” she added. And that she does. She goes after what she wants, no matter the obstacles.
If someone was looking for subjects for a “mind-over-matter” study, I would recommend my mother. She is amazing in her ability to keep moving forward, surmounting every hurdle.
My mother does not like change—or, as she would say, she likes things to stay the same (she is a pro at the positive spin). My dad used to say you could set your watch by my mother’s schedule: breakfast by 8:00 a.m., lunch at noon and supper at 5:00 p.m.
Her parents emigrated from Poland at the beginning of the twentieth century. They had been farmers in Poland and were farmers in northern Michigan. My mother is the seventh of ten children.
As a young adult, she moved to Detroit and got a job at a Polish restaurant. There she met my father, a cop whose parents were also Polish immigrants. My parents spoke Polish as their first language, and I grew up hearing them speak Polish to one another and to their parents.
Frugality was a way of life on the farm, and my mother did not moved much beyond that, even when her finances would allow. Frugal and resistant to change, my mother repaired rather than replaced most everything. We darned socks and replaced stretched-out elastic. She composts directly into her garden and flower beds, and I think she was the inspiration for the motto, reuse, reduce, recycle.
The habits my mother learned on the farm also shaped our lives, and even though we lived in the city, we were awakened every morning by 7:30 a.m. “You’re sleeping the day away,” she would say. There were no cows to milk or eggs to collect, but that made no difference. Rising early is a virtue in my mother’s eyes.
Every day started with a full breakfast—usually pancakes, waffles or eggs—and we had meat and potatoes most every night for supper (fish on Fridays being the exception). My mother cooked for us kids and then she made another meal for my dad, something traditionally Polish, like picked pigs feet or something with sauerkraut. Taking care of her family is what my mother has done for the past seventy years.
Today we celebrate a long life and say, Sto lat—that’s Polish for happy birthday and many more.