My mom celebrated her 97th birthday in early October. What a woman.
While her aging body deals out indignities one after another, her mind remains sharp and resolute. What keeps her going? I suspect it’s a blend of spirituality, curiosity, and exercise, along with the devotion of her family and friends.
Mom lives in a senior residential complex. She shares a small apartment with her cat, Luci, and participates in activities from exercise classes and news forums to lively games and social gatherings. When the weather permits, she walks the grounds with her sporty plaid walker. On rainy days, she strolls the halls inside.
She sometimes wonders aloud why God has let her live so long. I know why. She has a mission—other seniors in need of a kind word, a helping hand, or a bit of humor. She’s the one who patiently listens when others need to talk. And talk. (And talk.) The one who offers to share a meal with solitary souls in their communal dining room. The one with a funny story at the ready to lighten the mood. We think she’s an angel.
In her nearly ten decades of life, mom has witnessed the world in transformation. The year she was born, the first round-the-world flight was completed in 175 days, and today a commercial airliner can do it in about 45 hours. When she was five, Wall Street crashed. As a teenager during WWII, she and my grandmother cooked and served meals to German POWs conscripted to work on my grandfather’s Wisconsin farm.
A few months after the end of the war, mom, a college coed, met dad, a handsome Navy medical corpsman, at a school dance. In 1946, bikinis went on sale in Paris while mom headed to California to teach kindergarten—with more modest swimwear.
The state of Israel was born in 1948, the year mom and dad married, and I was born the following year. The Korean War started in 1950. On the home front, my brother Jeff was born. In 1953, the Korean War ended, but in our Midwestern bungalow, things were heating up with the birth of my brother Jay. The U.S. launched its first satellite in 1958 when our family blasted off with another baby named Janet. In 1963, car maker Studebaker ended production, the same year the Snyder baby mill closed down after the birth of Jennifer.
In 1967, as the Beatles released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, mom returned to teaching kindergarten after an 18-year hiatus, and I headed off to college. She retired from teaching in 1986, the year “The Oprah Winfrey Show” debuted. Not that she had time to watch—volunteering for community causes replaced caring for kids in the classroom.
In 1997, the United Kingdom announced the cloning of Dolly, the sheep. Mom and dad weren’t sheepish about an announcement of their own—a move to a ranchette in Nevada, where they offered the 4H Club a pasture to graze their animals. Sheep, of course.
Our beloved Green Bay Packers won the Super Bowl in 2011, and later that year, we lost my dad, the man who raised his own team of faithful football fans.
In 2014, the European Space Agency landed on the surface of a comet, and we—mom, my sister and brother-in-law, my husband, and I—landed in our new home, Portland, Oregon. This year, 2021, has manifested a world in chaos and a 97-year-old woman at peace with her life and destiny.
I’ve often been told that you can’t have it all. Well, I think mom did and does. A loving childhood, education, a career, marriage, babies, adventure, and now, an adoring family and serenity for the journey ahead. Her enduring grace, kindness, humor, and respect for life inspire me every day.