loren Eric Swanson: Reflections on Mom's 80th Birthday

Monday, August 08, 2005

Reflections on Mom's 80th Birthday

Liz and I flew out to California last week to be part of our family celebration of my mom's 80th birthday. My sister Debbie and her family flew in from Virginia. My brother Bruce, and his new bride, Lynn Maree, flew in from Brisbane, Australia and my other sister and her family, who live near my folks, joined in. My son Andy and his wife Natalie flew in as did my daughter Kacey and her fiance, Erik.

True to form of those who have gifts of grace and hospitality, Mom wanted all of us to stay in their modest three bedroom ranch-style home that they have lived in since 1965. To accomodate eleven guests they moved in with a neighbor. There were actually only two twin beds, one double bed and a pullout couch to accomodate all of us, so a couple of the families checked into the Radisson a couple miles away.

What had been planned as a birthday celebration began as a wedding reception, hosted by Mom and Dad, for Bruce and Lynn Maree. Dad fixed his Swedish Potato Sausage, Mom fixed a honeybaked ham, salad and h'ordeurves. My sister Wendy brought twice-baked potatoes. Mom and Dad bought a 20'-30' tent and the boys put it up in the back yard to provide shade from the Stockton sun. We picked up tables and chairs from church.

It was a bit like stepping back into time. My Uncle Hector, who is 90 showed up along with his son and my cousin Dennis, who is an accomplished musician and retired USPS employee. My great Aunt's daughter, Ele, who is also 90, joined us. And there was cousin Chris, and his wife Kim and their two beautiful children. (When Chris was nine he spent the weekend with me when I was a student at Cal and at breakfast after church we had an extended conversation with Jerry Mathers--the Beaver, who was a classmate of mine. Leave it to Beaver was Chris' favorite show at the time.) And cousin Don was there with along with my wonderful Aunt Eloise. Don's wife, Eloise's daughter, was sick but they drove up from Santa Cruz anyway. And there were Doug and Sonia...related through Cousin Ele, a wonderful couple whom I hadn't seen in years. My Uncle Russ and his wife Lynn were there. We lived with Russ' family for the first month when my family moved to California in 1961. They were all there...many whom I hadn't seen in years.

When I was growing up, all these same relatives would gather at our house in Stockton for Christmases and other events. My Uncle Russ, most likely our funniest relative, was there with his one-liners ("Sorry about the growth Boyd"--when shaking hands with my dad with one of his fingers folded into the palm of his hand), his expanded bag of tricks...literally a bag of tricks--from the fake bagel with a plastic roach underneath, to a disappearing ketchup bottle. He even did his "famous" K-mart suit routine, (which ends with the punchline, "Look at that poor fella...but doesn't his suit fit nicely?"). Following the laugher, my cousin Dennis took center stage and quoted from memory a beautiful cowboy poem. Then Liz read a poem written several years ago by Mark Berglund (Uncle Hector's grandson), when he was in his 20s, on going to Christmas at the Swansons when he was 8-years old.

It was too short...too early for the nostalgia to end but people had to get on the road and return to their own lives. But, for a few hours, in the afternoon of July 31, 2005, we all shared the feeling that "family" was good and rich and perhaps that we'd never be together quite like this again. And two of my kids got to see a bit of what my life was like when I was growing up. As people lingered another pot of coffee was brewed and people talked while standing. On the front lawn, my son Andy and my son-in-law to be, Erik began playing catch with Chris and Kim's 9-year-old son, Kyle, and swinging him, overhead in full circles as the adults gasped. And so the cycle of life continues. The young men play with the young boys who grow up and have children of their own to play with and they all talk fondly of the times they had when they were young.

We actually celebrated Mom's birthday on August 2nd at my sister Wendy's house. We worked up a nice game of whiffle ball in the park across the street from their house. As we were called in for dinner, followed by mysteriously old carrot cake, Mom opened her cards and a few presents. My neice Mary played a couple of songs on the piano. Brother Bruce played nearly all of the extended version of Light My Fire and then Mom sat at the piano and played a beautiful Swedish hymn. Her mind is as sharp as ever and it's only been in the past couple of years that her gait has slowed a bit. It was after she turned 75 that she commented once to Liz and me that she still thought of herself as being in 20s or 30s. And it was true. She never let herself think like an old person--so she's never really seemed old. She has more energy than anyone I know!

Wednesday we hung out at home...swimming in the pool. Thursday we went to San Francisco (via Berkeley and Top Dog) to ride the cable cars, take a boat ride under the Golden Gate Bridge and around Alcatraz. Then back to the wharf for more fish and chips and clam chowder in bread bowls at Tait's. Then across the Bay Bridge to Fenton's in Oakland for icecream, fries and onion rings. My sister Debbie proclaimed all three "the best ever."

Friday morning my dad went to St. Joseph's Hospital to have two stents put into his arteries--which were 90% blocked. While Dad was in the hospital the men played nine holes on the short course. By the time we got to the hospital at 3:30, Dad was out of surgery and looked just great and was feeling fine (though tired of having to stay on his back for so long). He stayed overnight and was discharged in the morning. All is well.


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