It was fall and Mother and I were sitting outside on the concrete picnic table. We have breakfast out there frequently.

“Mother, you’ll be eighty in June. Let’s have a big party.” I said, already thinking about how nice we could make it.

She was hesitant.

“I don’t have any friends, just my family,” she replied but there was a little sparkle in her eyes. Born poor white trash on the wrong side of Little Rock, Mother saw enough television in her young wife years to know there was a life beyond illiteracy (her father never finished fourth grade) and poverty. I thought to myself, I can give her elegant for once in her life.

“How about an art show?” I asked her.

The audience could be broader for that, I thought to myself.

Mother has been painting for 50 years but in the last ten years, its been a passion that makes her forget time. She is an artist of colors. Flowers and children and churches flow out of her brush and off her pallet and if you press her to name them she calls them ‘Joy’ and “Happiness” and other similar homonyms of idyllic life.

Her painting is a confirmation that there isbeauty and grace in life. In many ways, its an escape, because its a tough life she has led. As she approaches eighty, its no less tough, but then she’d probably say that no one’s is. Her heart chooses to reflect on fields of flowers and children romping under the watchful eye of a Heavenly Father rather than the worry, doubt and fear that is the human plague. Its this that shines through as her arthritic hands move across canvas. It would be a good way to celebrate her life.

She looks at me and says yes.

Over the next several months, I made her privy to plans.

“Do you want me to put no gifts on the invitation, Mother?” I asked.

“No”, she said. “Someone might want to buy a nice paintbrush,” she answered sensibly. Should she have been invited to an artist’s show, in celebration of such a milestone such as eighty years, that is exactly what she would have brought with her to the event.

She bought a dress.

She painted a self portrait at my insistence.

She wrote a speech and asked me to type it up for her. It made me cry in its honesty. It was full of wisdom, simple and deep.

“What about my inability to hear,” she said the other day, the first hint of discomfort about the whole feting process creasing her brow and mirrored in the tilt of her mouth.

The thought crossed my mind again, as it has the last several months, that Mother, one who looked older than her years in midlife now looks younger than her decades. She tells me she is the most contented she has ever been. She loved my dad, with all her heart, but life was difficult with an alcoholic, even one recovered. She is finally in the place where she is who she was meant to be. Except that she can’t hear. Its in her genes, this aging deafness. She can’t talk on the phone and she increasingly shies away from group events. The less her ears have been capable, the more she desires to hear, and despite my good intentioned protestations that 99% of what people say is not worth hearing, she is isolated. She tells me that people think deaf people are stupid. I know that I am her lifeline.

Once, when I had gotten irritated because she couldn’t hear me, I walked outside to cool off and looking at the rustling trees and noisy birds flitting about, I covered my ears.  It was a  strange quietness, almost loud, a void of sound so complete, it scared me a bit. I moved my hands down and wondered at my own arrogance.

“Let’s just plan on having a tablet there. People can write on it,” I said, answering her question with the only solution I knew.

“What if they don’t like my painting? My paintings are simple, Jan,” her long, acrylic nails, painted red, tapping nervously on her leg,  the fine lines around her eyes deepening, and the greeness of the irises contracting a bit.

I already know there is no way to tell her, to convince her, that the passion she plays out in her art room, the very words of her heart, are there for all to see.

“I don’t want to have the party, Jan. I know what you are trying to do and I love you for it, but I don’t want it,” she says. Not one used to the spotlight, she told me she was relieved that I said okay. I think she told me it was a load off her mind.

“You can take me to Red Lobster if you like,” she finished.

When you give someone something, you give them something they want, not what you want.

So there won’t be a big party and there won’t be an art show.

But that doesn’t mean there won’t be celebrating.

Because in the world of mothers, I might have gotten the best.

This Monday marks eight weeks before my Mother turns 80. She is a remarkable woman. Not a famous woman, but I suspect when its her time for Heaven, she will be among the meek who inherit.  It dawns on me that while I might be her companion and confidante, more so with each passing year, she is to me that as well. I learn something from her almost daily. I am forever her daughter. She loves me and will always.

I have, do and will count on that love.

For the next eight Mondays I am going to tell you about my Mother. When June 11th comes, I hope I have faithfully rendered, in words, the beauty of her soul. If a picture is worth a thousand words, my thousand words must surely tell you what a photograph never could.

But just in case you’re visual…