My grandmother turned 76 this week.
She probably wouldn’t admit it because she’s not looking for a pity party, but she’s lived a hard 76 years. Growing up dirt poor with her grandparents, who fed the family possum and eggs preserved in salt when they ran out of the whole hog they butchered every year.
(She must find a certain irony in the fact that she — and in turn, her children — worked so hard to get a strong foothold in the middle class that her eldest granddaughter now grows vegetables and raises backyard chickens for fun.)
As I’ve finally gotten to know her as an adult, I’ve learned more about the years that were filled with creative, financial and personal success (she once owned a craft company that was in the Inc. 500) and the others that were burdened with the kind of strife and wrenching heartache saved for the movies.
This past year was probably one of her hardest. A year ago next week, she lost her husband of more than 30 years. After he died, she sorted through the already whittled-down physical representation of their lives together, divvying up what to put in storage, what to give away and what to pack up with her when she moved to Austin to be closer to my aunt and uncle.
Just as she settled in to her new apartment and I got used to taking the kids by to see her and maybe even get her out of the house to go swimming in the complex pool, she decided it was probably best for her to move in with my aunt and her husband, whose last kid finally left for college.
My grandmother once again parsed her things down to just what she needed for a room her daughter and son-in-law are adding on to their house.
Amid all this change, she’s decided to make a change for herself.
Instead of letting herself get down and stay down, she is persevering to make the most of what time she has left. (Cue “Wig in a Box” from Hedwig and the Angry Inch.) Her health hasn’t been great, and she knew her diet and weight had something to do with it, so she started paying closer attention to what she ate, and for awhile there, she’d even given up smoking.
She has lost 12 pounds.
Weight loss in no way guarantees happiness, but taking control of your life — and seeing physical results from your actions — can certainly put a smile on your face.
But for her party today, my aunt made a coconut-and-cream-cheese-frosted white cake with lemon filling, and my grandmother relished every bite of an entire slice.
“You only turn 76 once,” she said.