My family is getting ready for a special get-together to celebrate the birth of its oldest member. Aunt Sister, our family's name for her, will be 100 years old on Halloween. That her birthday party will be in mid-summer is not because she is frail -- far from it -- but because it's the best time for the large number of family and friends to gather to honor her. I have every confidence that she will be just as vital, engaged, and lively in October as she is now. But the celebration is now and I want to tell you about it, and her.
What I want to share is that Lona Mae is a testament to living longer. I'm emphasizing the word "living" because our culture seems to be fixated on the numbers (oh, how we agonize over the 40th, or 50th, or 60th birthday) or on eliminating the external signs of aging. Lona Mae doesn't seem to be too concerned about the numbers or the wrinkles; she's too busy with the living part. She's an example of what the experts refer to when they say that, to live longer, we need to keep our brains sharp, our bodies healthy, our relationships strong, and our spirits nourished.
That's what Lona Mae does when she has her friends over twice a week to play cards, or when she plays dominoes with family members (and usually wins). That's why she enjoyed a recent trip to St. Louis to watch the Cardinals play (walking from the car to the stadium and up the steps to her seat without assistance). That's why a drive to Memphis to watch Avatar didn't daunt her, even if it meant getting home at 2:00 a.m. It's also why she planned a slumber party for her younger sisters, so that they could come to her house, catch up on family gossip and have fun. And it's why she enjoyed a trip to Las Vegas and will enjoy a trip to Greece next spring.
But Lona Mae is not just about having fun. She has a very active spiritual life, which was recognized by a recent Christian service award by Harding University. The recognition noted that she has taught Bible classes for more than 80 years. She was also one of the founding members of a group of ladies in her church who provide help for community members in need. Here is a photo of Lona Mae with some the dresses she made for distribution through her group:
Lona Mae's skills are not limited to sewing; she also enjoys quilting, ceramics, crochet, knitting and making holiday ornaments. She is generous with her handiwork and many family members have examples of items she has made. At a recent family reunion, she unveiled a large table which was filled with beautiful scarves that she had knitted. She invited all of her nieces who were present to come forward and choose one. You'll note that, in this photograph, I am among the happy recipients:
Lona Mae has always had a special place in the hearts of her family and friends. As the oldest of 14 children, she learned early that her contribution to the family's welfare was crucial and her mother recorded in her life story that Lona Mae was a caretaker for the younger children and a great help around the house. Today, she is the touchstone for the family; all of us depend upon her wisdom and "good sense", as well as her knowledge of the family history and its continuing story.
I heard through the family grapevine that Lona Mae is a little bit concerned that she doesn't deserve the celebration that is planned for her 100th birthday. My hope is that she'll stop worrying and enjoy what we, her many family members and friends know -- that she is more than worthy and that the pleasure will be all ours on that special day.
Happy Birthday, Aunt Sister!