Tonight, I drank a margarita in honor of my grandmother, Elizabeth, whose ninety-one long years of life my family celebrated this morning. Mom Mom, as we called her, wasn’t a particularly big drinker, but I distinctly remember the first time I visited her in her assisted living facility in Florida and asked her what she had done the previous day. Expecting to hear about Bingo or perhaps an excursion to a local concert or museum, I was surprised when Mom Mom said “drank margaritas at our Happy Hour.”
Granted, the margaritas were probably glorified lemonade and were served in those small Dixie cups, but still—they were margaritas to her, and they gave her something to smile about, something to choose for herself in a world where those choices were becoming limited.
Mom Mom lived autonomously and proudly for the first eighty-eight years of her live, driving herself to and from “rummage” sales, church activities and the homes of far-away friends and relatives even after my grandfather passed away in 1994. Fiercely independent, “assisted” living was certainly not her favorite dwelling place, though she tried her best to make it her own with her knickknacks, familiar books and pictures of family, all the while referring it to it as “prison.” She managed to maintain that independence, sending countless staff members running from her room by screaming “get the hell out of here” if they were unfamiliar or didn’t treat her with the dignity and respect she deserved. She refused to eat dinner if the meals weren’t pleasing to her palette. She selected stacks of books to read and re-read, and at her age, deserved the right to cheat more-than-occasionally during games of Upwards—most of which she could win outright without even bending the rules. Her brain was sharp to the end, and she had an astounding vocabulary, probably gleaned from her love of literature. Even in her advanced age and deteriorating condition, she commanded respect and was stubborn, even to the end—holding on out of sheer refusal to go before she declared it time.
These qualities—spunk, independence, and tenacity—probably not considered very “lady-like” for her generation are the ones her daughter, my mother, imparted to me and my sister, and I can only hope I live up to her great example.