My mother is a nonagenarian. It’s okay though; if you’re fortunate you may be a nonagenarian someday, too.
For those unfamiliar with the term, a nonagenarian is someone who is between 90 and 99 years of age. My mother turned 90 on May 8.
Her six children and their spouses, most of her 10 grandchildren, a flock of great-grandchildren and a sister, sister-in-law, brother-in-law and several others who love Mom gathered in a town park shelter on May 7 to celebrate this significant birthday. Mom is a great cook and generally goes all out for picnics, but this time we had the picnic catered. As a result, we didn’t have any of her excellent strawberry pie for dessert, but the “store bought” cake was delicious.
So what kind of birthday gift do you give to your 90-year-old mother? She has a closet full of clothes, scores of nick-nacks and her walls are already covered with family photos. And she can bake better than any bakery. In lieu of more stuff, my sisters came up with a unique birthday gift idea.
First, a little background: during the summer of 1978 my parents hosted a French student in their home. My teenage baby sister had her sights set on becoming a French teacher and all concerned thought hosting a French exchange student was a great idea.
It was a great idea. The summer visit resulted in lifelong friendships. Guylaine, the French student, returned to Iowa for a visit in 1981. When Guylaine and her family visited Disney World about 10 years ago, my mother and sister flew to our baby sister’s home near Orlando for a reunion. Christmas gifts, birthday cards and correspondence cross the Atlantic on a regular basis. Social media has been a boon to keeping in touch.
Now to the gift idea: as our birthday gift to our mother, her six kids flew Guylaine from Paris to Iowa to help Mom celebrate her 90th birthday. Guylaine’s husband, Christian, and her 84-year-old father, Guy, accompanied her. The visit was a surprise to Mom and happy tears flowed when they met at the Des Moines airport.
Our family loved seeing Guylaine again and enjoyed meeting her husband and father. The teenager I met in 1978 hasn’t changed much at all. I recognized the now 50-something woman immediately. Her ever-present smile and sweet personality have endured the years.
Chris and Guylaine are empty-nesters. Their sons are a podiatrist and a teacher.
While Guylaine and Chris live in a suburb of Paris, her father lives in the French province of Brittany on the Atlantic coast. Fishing and agriculture are important parts of the provincial economy and Guy was fascinated with Iowa’s large farms. One of the Iowa highlights for Guy was riding in the cab of a farm tractor.
While his daughter speaks English fluently, Guy speaks only French. Not being able to converse freely with this fascinating Frenchman was difficult for me. Chris, by the way, speaks some English and we could generally understand each other.
My baby sister was indeed a French teacher for a number of years and my daughter was a French minor at Iowa State. Both have visited Guylaine’s home in France several times. The aunt-niece team provided translation services for the monoglots in the crowd.
Guylaine and her family flew back to Paris on Tuesday, May 9. Tears flowed at the Des Moines airport again.
Our French friends seemed to have enjoyed Iowa as much as we enjoyed having them here. They were a pleasant reminder of what I have long believed: worldwide we humans are much more alike than we are different.
Since Guylaine’s initial visit to the U.S. I have read and observed news reports from France differently. We have friends there.
As for my mother, I think she was thrilled with her birthday gift. She loves Guylaine like a daughter and this rare opportunity to see her again seemed to please her a great deal.
As one of Mom’s biological offspring, I know that my mother has more than enough love in her heart to care for Guylaine and her family, too.
Mom’s 90th birthday was a “Bon Anniversaire” for all of us.