Birthday Blowout

My father-in-law, Clarence just celebrated his 90th birthday. It was a delightful party.  The grandkids gathered. Well, OK, 4 out of 6 aint bad since the other two were in Nashville.  It’s really quite an adjustment for me. My kids lived with me for 20 years or more and then… they left. I know it’s how it’s suppose to be done but when David and I got married we moved across town not across the country.  Across town is great. Across the country not so great.

But anyways… I digress.  Clarence had a birthday party. There were party plates and napkins and there was a small gathering of family members… a total of 8 which for Clarence is quite a crowd.  Meagan made his favorite cake – German chocolate. YUMMM. Image

So… the moment arrived where we all gathered around the cake and sang “happy Birthday” with the typical Payne-family harmony. Then Clarence, thoroughly reveling in the moment stood up and leaned forward over the cake to blow out the candles. 

Now.. just so you know, we did NOT put 90 candles on the cake.  The cake was not big enough to hold that many candles. Meagan put just two candles on the cake… the numbers 9 and  0.  So back to the moment we all wait for at every birthday party; blowing out the candles.

Clarence took as big a breath as any 90 year old can and leaning over the cake blew as hard as he could. One of the candles went out but I’m not sure whether it was the rush of air or the loud sputtering spray of spit that put it out. But it was definitely out. Everyone in the room gasped just a little. I think it was because of the spit covered caked but it could have been because we realized that there was still a candle burning brightly and before we could help him with that Clarence took another quick breath and gave a hearty blow.  VICTORY!  The second candle went out with another mixture of wind and spit.  We cheered and we laughed and then the most amazing thing happened:

Everyone, young and old – even the germaphobes in the group (you know who you are) sat down with Clarence and ATE the cake. No one asked for a spit-free piece. No mention was ever made of the added ingredient.  It could have been the coconut frosting. It could have been the homemade chocolate cake with coconut filling.  I would like to think it was love and respect for Clarence. Whatever was the reason for the unanimous ingestion of cake I was proud of a family that put honoring and celebrating the oldest among us before our fear of his spit. 

It tasted great. Thank you Meagan!  Clarence felt loved.  I felt the pride parents feel when their kids show up and do the right thing.

I also felt a moment of grief. It’s been 7 years since David died and it was just so wrong that he wasn’t there to celebrate with his dad. But though David is not here his family clearly lives on – strong and filled with love.  Grief and love sprinkled the day…. and spit.


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Driving Clarence

I took my 90 year old father-in-law to the Secretary of State office because they aren’t sure he should be driving.  We met with a humorless and uncaring “public servant” who took one look at Clarence and demanded he cough up his license and proceeded to punch a whole in it and tell him “your license is suspended right now!”.  The man has a clean driving record. I doubt he’s ever broken a single law of any kind and It took all the self-control I could find to keep from grabbing that woman by the neck and demanding she show a little respect to her elders.  But her rudeness is not what this story is actually about. 

We left the office and headed for the grocery story.  I live 3 hours from Clarence and so until we can see his eye doctor and then schedule another appointment with the license people ( oh joy!) he needs supplies. We picked up his favorite things and he assured me his neighbor could drive him to church (the only place he drives to other than the grocery store and the doctor) Clarence has a 10 year old car and it has only 27,000 miles on it. But this story is not actually about Clarence’s driving record.

So we’re standing in front of the dairy section looking for milk to put on his oatmeal which he eats every morning. He’s having a problem finding the right milk. “Whole milk? 2%? Skim?”  I asked him pointing to each one.  None of those were right. He was looking for the milk with half the fat.  Finally he spots the carton on the top shelf of their cooler and I open the door to reach for the milk he is pointing to.  As I lock eyes with the “right” milk several questions flood my brain.


1.  Should I tell him that he’s not drinking milk. He’s drinking half-n-half? It’s cream… not milk.

2.  Should I tell him that it doesn’t have half the fat – that it actually has more fat than whole milk. It’s cream!

As I lift the pint of half and half off the top shelf I answer my own questions:

1.  Clarence is 5’2″ and 117 pounds – fully clothed – soaking wet.  He’s been retired for 35 years and has lived a sedentary life. I’ve never known him to exercise or do anything even remotely strenuous. He’s had a steady diet of baked beans, potato chips and Breyers Ice cream (all of which we picked up that day along with the “milk”).  He’s never had a weight problem and takes less medicine than I do.  He clearly doesn’t need low-fat food of any kind.  He’s 90. He should eat whatever he wants. Half and half on hot oatmeal probably tastes quite good. Not that I would know anything about that – I do not have any of Clarence’s wonderful genes. I eat everything called low-fat as well as no-sugar and low carb. The last time I weighed 117 pounds I was in 5th grade. Life is clearly not fair.

2. And as I put the carton of “milk” in his cart it occurred to me that what Clarence and I just shared could be described as a “Mr. McGoo moment”.  Perhaps Clarence does not need to be driving. Then again…. he did read the word “half” quite clearly from about 10 feet away. 

Monday we see the eye doctor. He will be the definitive factor in this on-going saga. Whatever the doctor says it will be several weeks before we return to the license people (oh joy!) so on Monday I’m sure we will need to visit the grocery store again. Clarence makes it an interesting and fun outing and I still find it a joy to tend to his needs. He’s a kind and funny guy. The first thing my husband David said to me when he learned he had terminal cancer was, “who will take care of my dad?”.  I said, “He’s my dad too”.

I said a prayer reminding God that Clarence needs help and God has moved me to the other side of the state.  God reminded me that 3 hours is a short trip (I’ve traveled that far to check out IKEA) and that he has provided a grandson and my sister right there in town to help meet Clarence’s needs. The Lord provides. 

To all my skinny friends out there… Clarence may be on to something. Give that half and half on oatmeal a try. He may just be a 90 year old trend setter.  Who knew?




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One step From Assisted Living

I am back from my first road trip with new hubby, Ron. We drove to Myrtle Beach and back to visit my daughter and to visit the beach. I’m not sure which is more therapeutic for me but I was glad to see both.

Moment of parental pride: My daughter, Lisa just earned her masters degree in education. I am a proud mom!

While there the hotel security informed us that they wanted us to move our car from the space that the hotel desk clerk told us to put it in to a handicap spot that he (the security guard) preferred. What a bother! Ron went down to move the car and I went out onto the balcony overlooking the ocean to read my book shutting the balcony door behind me.  Ron forgot his key.

30 minutes later – (it’s a good thing I’m not that avid a reader!) I came into the room to tell Ron about what I just read and he was strangely missing. I called him. His cell phone rang – from the other side of the hotel room. He didn’t take his phone either.  Poor Ron – locked out of the room and unable to reach me.  Just then he pounded on the door and we were reunited.

He made many comments in the days to come about how I locked him out of the room. hmmm.  Not sure that’s an accurate account of events but I chose to laugh along with him.

Fast forward two days – we’re on our way home thru the mountains of West Virginia. We stop for gas at the only gas station in town only to find every pump is being used by motorcyclist.  There is one pump where the cycle is not in front of the pump so we pull in to fill er up. As soon as Ron gets out of the car the cyclist comes out of the gas station yelling at us that he is next to use that pump.  Ron gets back in the car.  Other cyclist start to come out of the store so we opt to move on down the road to the next exit.  It was upsetting and alarming. So alarming that Ron forgot to close the door on the gas tank and the cap was flopping around as we drove down the highway.

He pulls over on a narrow strip of pavement alongside the mountain and he waits for the traffic behind us to pass. He then jumps out of the car and attempts to return the gas cap to its rightful place.  It is at this moment that I notice the scenery around me seem to be moving.  I am sitting in the passenger seat on highway 77 and the car seems to rolling backwards. This is not good.

Ron is quick for his age.  He thinks on his feet. I was thankful that he managed to stay on his feet as he jerked open the door and jumped into the car as it rolled away.  He hit the brake and then put the car in park – something he apparently failed to do before jumping out.

We laughed.  All’s well that ends well. It could have ended rather badly. I figure being locked out of a hotel room does not compare to rolling into oncoming traffic on the side of a mountain.

It’s good to be home. We made it safely back to our house. We sat on that highway for two hours while they cleaned up the accident with two trucks. We marveled at how God had helped us to get gas and lunch and delay us just long enough to arrive at that accident just AFTER it happened. Maybe 2 to 5 minutes after. God was clearly riding along with us.  His angels were working hard that day just to keep us out of harms way.  We’re staying home for a while just to give them a rest.

Footnote:  I haven’t blogged in several weeks.  I began this blog 5 years ago to help us all grieve.  My grieving is for the most part, complete.  Yes, grief does finally lift and all that is left is memories and the love you shared with your deceased.  There is life after loss.  There is even love after loss.  I am now living in the good days – days filled with loving memories of David and days filled with new love and new adventures, new purpose and hope. God is good. Trust Him.  He’s really the only thing in life that is always reliable, always faithful, always present, always true.




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