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Visiting Mom on her 100th birthday
by Joseph Patrick Meissner

December 21 is always a special day. This shortest day of the year is our Mother's birthday. She always bore the brunt of the family jokes that she who was the shortest of height in the family enjoyed the shortest day for her birth.

This year of 2013 is very special. It is because Mom was born in 1913 and thus she has turned one hundred years old. Mom died in her eighties, so she is celebrating her birthday elsewhere. I will tell you my vision later of her celebration.

I had vowed that I would visit her grave site this year. My sister Anne did and she has related her story to us earlier, but I could not as usual find the time to drive to Calvary Cemetery and see Mom. Finally this past Monday the second last day of 2013, I drove my black car through the snow filled and icy Cleveland streets down Highway 90 and over to Broadway. Then I traveled out to Miles Avenue and turned north to the large stone cemetery entrance.

As I drive in, I should have taken a clue about what lay ahead from the fact that I saw nobody except for one lone cemetery crew cutting fir trees near the entrance. But there were no other cars nor any human beings as I drove along the roads and then parallel to the train tracks. I made one wrong turn as everything was covered with snow and it was hard to find the way. But I would not turn back.

I did bring my camera and I stop occasionally to photograph the stark black stone shapes against the snow. I remember there is some kind of bridge archway that I must drive under and then more fields, and ahead are the family graves. On the left is where Sister Noreen is buried, Mom's sister. There are more relatives on the right, but I cannot see their stones all covered with snow. The camera clicks away.

I will drive along and then turn right to go up the hill behind Mom and Dad's areas. I have brought with me some fruitcake and many small branches from the bamboo trees that thrive in our yard.

The fruit cake? At the holidays Mom would prepare and bake these wonderful fruitcakes filled with all kinds of sweet delights. We so much enjoyed these every Christmas. I loved a thick cake slice with a cold glass of milk. The fruitcakes sold in the stores these days never measure up to what she made, but I have brought a slice for her.

As for the bamboo branches, even cut, these will carry their bright green leaves for weeks and weeks. The green color is special because Mom came from the eternally green land of Ireland.

So I have turned right and slowly drive up the hill from the main road. There are no other tracks here. As the car tries to go up, it cannot gain any traction. The car has stopped on the middle of the incline although I am still stepping gently on the accelerator. Then the car begins to glide, only backwards and it spins slowly around on the icy road.

Where will this end? I have visions of the car slipping off the road and getting stuck on the stones which rise several inches above the ground. My car will be impaled and I will have to trudge through the snow looking for help.

But the car stays on the road, only it is going back down the hill. I dare not press on the brakes because I know they will not hold. I manage to get the car to turn left onto the more main road at the bottom of the hill. I travel back along where now Sister Noreen is on my right. I won't give up. I can't.

I find another road up the hill and I manage to drive up that and around the backside of the gentle hill to where Mom and Dad are waiting for me. I remember there are seven rows of stones leading back to their row.

As I drive up, I see a shape, in the middle of all the grave stones. It is a deer, looking directly at me, the invader. The deer does not move. Is it part of some grave site? No, it cannot be. Then it is gone. I could discuss divine mysteries and the deer's mystical appearance out of nowhere, but it was only a deer.

So I stop my car and climb out. Somewhere over there a few hundred feet is Mom's flat grave stone underneath the snow. How will I ever find her and Dad? How will I ever walk through this field, or really hobble on these defective legs? I cannot do that.

So I stop and place the cake and the bamboo branches alongside one tree. I stand on the road, bow my head, and say an Our Father and a deck of the rosary. That is ten Hail Mary's.

Mom always loved the rosary and we would kneel in the front living room every night as she led us in prayer through five decks and the Apostles' Creed. Even in the car when we were driving on a trip, she would interrupt our daydreams, "Let's say the rosary."

The afternoon visit is now over. I climb into the car and wish that St. Christopher will help me drive safely down the hill. I go so slowly and the car thankfully holds the road and I am safely on my way.

So now I envision Mom and Dad celebrating her one hundredth. Everybody in the family is gathered around. There is a large cake with one hundred candles. Dad hands Mom a huge box of Whitman Sampler chocolates. She always loved those candies. The box is a bright pebbly gold and the writing shows the scriptive Whitman name.

I wish I was there to give her a great kiss and thank her and Dad for all they did for us kids.

'Happy Birthday, Mom!'

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