HAPPY 100TH BIRTHDAY MOM
My mother was born January 17th, 1918 so today would have been her 100th birthday. She passed away almost twelve years ago. She loved birthday cake so I know she'd have looked forward to having one for this very special birthday--two layers and lots of icing. She often said, "Birthday cakes taste better than any other kind."
The photos above show her at 19 and 80-something. Her name was Garnet Elizabeth Studham Julien.
She baked many of them for our family of six over the years we all lived together in a Chicago suburb. Having worked in her mother's neighborhood bakery, she was a natural baker.
Some people have mothers who were highly educated, have done exciting things in the medical or science field, led a company or were a celebrity. My mother was none of these things but she achieved greatness in her own way over the 87 years she was on the earth.
She grew up in a small coal mining town in southeast Iowa. Her father, grandfather and uncles were all coal miners. Mom told many stories about life in Melcher, often as we sat around the kitchen table. They sent her to first grade at age four. She was the youngest of five children and the only girl. Two older brothers died of diphtheria before she was born. You'd think she would have been the spoiled little princess under those circumstances, but that was not the case. She had a stern mother and a family who survived from pay envelope to pay envelope. She got in more trouble as a child than either of her older brothers.
In 1929, her family broke up. The older brothers had moved to Chicago to find jobs and her mother took Mom to visit them. As they sat on the train, Mom said, "I'll have lots of things to tell Papa when we get home." Her mother made one reply. "We aren't going home again." No explanation as to why she had left her husband. What a shock it must have been for my eleven-year-old mother. She survived but never forgot the way she'd been informed of the separation of her parents.
The Depression years followed their move to the big city. Her mother started a small bakery in a suburb and Mom had to quit school after her Freshman year to help her mother. It wasn't so unusual during those difficult years but she loved learning and would have enjoyed finishing her education.
She married at twenty, had four children between 1939 and 1955. Until I was four, she helped in the bakery during the mornings, taking me with her. When my first brother was born, she became a stay-at-home mom. She cooked, did laundry, cleaned and took care of her brood but she and Dad had a full social life with friends and family. She read books and learned to love football on television once it became a staple in our home.
Her storytelling around the table continued as her children married and she became a grandmother, and later, a great-grandmother, known as Gigi.
She had a great sense of humor, an Irish temper that flared now and then, and a genuine caring for other people. She knew no stranger. Coming from a small town where everyone spoke to everyone, she continued the practice until the end of her life. She spoke to all she encountered, brightened the day of the mailman, the lawn mowing men, the clerks in the bakery and pharmacy. Her smile brought more smiles from whoever she met in daily life.
She was widowed at 77. Her life changed drastically but she carried on, learned how to do many things in the house she'd never done before. Dad always controlled the remote for the television so one of the first things she had to be taught was how to operate same. One time on a visit, she admitted that it was kind of fun to be in control of that little 'remote thing.' She started taking the local senior bus to do her shopping. She told me there were a bunch of grim-faced looking, silent old people on that bus. It wasn't long before she had everyone talking and laughing and greeting one another. She read books and newspapers every day, kept up with political news on tv. Formal education? No. Instead, she was self-educated.
She was also a great psychologist. She saw deep into the heart of soul of others and often knew what their problems were. And she kept on telling those family stories around the kitchen or dining room table when we came to visit. Is it any wonder that I urge everyone to write their own family stories? She didn't write any of them, but I have written many of them in her stead.
She spent the final years of her life in North Carolina with one of my brothers and his wife, and, finally, the last fourteen months in a nursing home. My last visit with her proved to be a happy one, even though I knew it would probably be our final time together.
Nothing would make me happier today than being able to bake a birthday cake for her, two layers with lots of icing. Birthday cakes taste better than any other kind. I know that because my mother told me so.