To cheer her up, we planned a magnificent 71st birthday celebration for Mom in beautiful Estes Park, Colorado. Due to a cancellation, we were able to rent the highly sought after reunion cabin. It is a lovely, spacious cabin with a huge great room, and amazing fireplace. It had fifteen bedrooms and could accommodate up to sixty of us, all under one roof. The back wall was an entire sheet of glass looking out onto the majestic Rocky Mountain State Park.
On a glorious October weekend, sixty-two family members came from all over the country to shower Mom with love. We have a huge family, but the fact that so many people came with only six weeks’ notice is a testament to the beauty of my mother’s soul. My mom had the face of an angel. At times I would look at her and see a beautiful Hawaiian with full cheeks, and other times I’d see a serene Native American with a steady gaze. A girl from New Orleans, she embodied the African, French and Native American mixture so common to the people and food of that region.
As I placed photographs of her on the stone mantle, I noticed her sweet apple-cheeked smile when she was just a young girl smitten by her first love. Her face filled out over time, expressing the generosity she radiated as a middle aged woman. When her hair turned salt and pepper around her face, the generosity moved toward square-jawed wisdom. Through all the years, love and generosity permeated her being. I realized then, my mother had always been gorgeous, kind and full of love, but she had also evolved gradually into the wise woman I cherished.
On the day of arrival, and shortly after check in time, we had scheduled a professional photo shoot to capture the entire family. Due to so many folks getting lost or taking the scenic route and arriving late, we didn’t meet at the appointed time or location for the shoot. Unfortunately for the photographers, they came to the cabin at the same time that most of the family arrived. Leading the way was my grandmother, Mom’s 92-year-old mom, all of her children, grandchildren, siblings, nieces and nephews, along with my mother and father in-law, Mom and Pop Cornish, Moms’ best friend, Miss Louisa, and my sister friend, Janet, to round out the list of honored guests. Many of us hadn’t seen each other in a few years, so it was difficult to stop hugging and loving on each other long enough to take the photo. Getting everyone to stop and pose was like herding cats. That day, our family earned the dubious honor of being the worst family group ever photographed by that company. We know this because they told us so just before we placed our photo order. Despite the insult, we have an amazing family photo to cherish for a lifetime.
In true Colorado style, all weekend long we experienced brilliant sunshine, intermittent sleet and rain. The icing on the cake arrived in the form of snow. It would be a first experience for nearly half of our family. The wonder and beauty of the snow was capped off with the children, led by my fearless husband, spearheading a precision snowball fight with any unsuspecting relative who dared to venture outside.
In order to limit time spent in the kitchen, our dear friend from New Orleans, Chef Lisa of Gourmet Away, was hired to prepare family favorites, including jambalaya, red beans and rice, smothered chicken and gravy, stuffed peppers and crawfish etouffee. Did I mention the greens, candied yams, potato salad and baked macaroni and cheese? Each meal was topped with one of mom’s favorite desserts, German chocolate cake, praline candy, Aunt Jannie’s yam nut square, and bread pudding with the essential bourbon sauce.
Friday night was Mardi Gras themed, complete with purple, green and gold decorations, beads and carnival masks. We held a great big party filled with Mom’s favorite music and lots of dancing. We each showed off our best dance moves and did our version of Mom’s favorite steps. Mom had always been a finger snapper and a slow, smooth mover and groover. The laughter was loud and the joy was simply indescribable, erasing any thoughts of illness.
Saturday night was our chance to celebrate Mom exclusively and let her know how much we loved her. My mother always used to say, “Give me my flowers now while I’m here to enjoy them. Don’t wait until I’m lying up there too proud to speak.” We delivered the flowers while she could still enjoy them. We started out with a video of photos depicting her life. The entire evening was filled with great stories about Mom, some I had never heard. Over and over they demonstrated how generous, kind and selfless my Mother had been her entire life. We each got to share how much Mom meant to us and show her just how loved she was. This time, there was just as much laughter, but there were also plenty of tears.
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