Happy 93rd Birthday, Mom!

© 2011 Dr. Judy Krings

Are you one of the friendly folks who have followed my blogs about my Mom,
Louise? Do I have a treat for you!

Many of you have emailed me relating your favorite blogs are the ones I write
about Mom. Today, September 10th, 2011 is Mom’s 93rd birthday.

Here’s a sweet salute to authentic, awesome Mom. All of you who send love to her
from all over the world, you were here in our hearts at her surprise birthday party.

Mom’s self-described characterization as, “Just a little farm girl from Delaware,”
hardly captures the true spirit of Louise Marie Redden Burgess. Diminutive in
stature, Mom is tall in spirit, determination, and work-ethic. Looking back on her
life, you might think that she has sold her 93 years of living a tad bit short. And
speaking of short, at 4’10”, her vertically challenged stature never prevented her
from taking on the world, literally and figuratively! Even though she’s so humble
she wouldn’t talk about herself, if you pressed her, she would show you her
gigantic world map with scads of pushpins. She’d smile and tell you about The
Seven Wonders of the World first hand. As a shy, naive girl marveling at the
pages of National Geographic Magazine, she would never have believed
these exotic places would open their wonders to her. When she was traveling,
she would wistfully muse, “I just have to pinch myself to believe I am here!”

Mom was always steadfastly independent, until a broken leg threw a monkey
wrench into her life plan. After almost 2 years in assisted living, Mom’s new
home living with my friends, Cathy and Bill, is heaven. Five dogs and three parrots
charm her every day. Acres of land, woods, and gigantic rose bushes treat her
with blossoms all summer. Mom was thrilled when Cathy created a flower garden
right outside her window. Solar ornaments, mercury glass globes, and stained
glass reflect Mom’s smiles.

Best surprise? Bill surprised Mom by installing her prized possession, her
over 150 years old farm dinner bell, in an arbor low enough for her to ring it.
It brings tears to my eyes thinking about the smile on her face the first time
I saw her pulling its rope. My best friends in Delaware, Cheryl and Bob, rescued
it from Mom’s home where its ivy clad pole was still standing tall.

Carefully, Cathy has Mom up and slowly walking again. A miracle! Mom is even
walking in a swimming pool. She’s back to her normal weight as Cathy creates
homemade organic food fresh from their garden. Mom “adopted” Kathy and
Bill’s Scotty, Lucas, as her own. Truth is, she is thrilled when any of the dogs
are sitting in her lap. Or when the two big dogs stroll in, lay their heads in
her lap, and get set for a pet.

Before assisted living, Mom was perennially busy. You could find her working
in her garden, driving the lawn tractor, or puttering around in her beloved
greenhouse. Scottie dog, Katie, her constant companion, sat in the chair with
|her as she read and worked puzzles. Katie crossed the rainbow bridge to heaven
this year, but Mom is ecstatic to have more pets to love. And what irony, or
God at work, that Cathy had an adorable Scottie dog. Kind of makes you shake
your head in wonder if you think about it.

Mom has always been a trooper. Even overnight total deafness (caused by a
medication she did not need!), vertigo, and the necessity of a walker did not
keep her down. She continued to live at home until she broke her leg. She told
me she used to lie in bed at night thinking of ways to rig her walker to more
easily carry garden tools, plants, and weeds! With boards and a rope hooking
her red wagon onto her walker, she joyfully tended her half-acre. A smile always
graced her face. Flowers have always been her passion, and they still are. Mom
never let anything get in the way.

Mom’s optimism? Are you wondering about that? Where did it originate?

Louise’s story began in 1918 when she was born in a little cottage her father
had built in Girdletree, Maryland. When her family moved to Delaware, she
grew up in a farm house, formerly a Quaker church. She found Indian heads
at a Native American grave site in the back field. She loved the outdoors and
picking huckleberries. Reading, riding her bike with her best friend, Violet,
and coloring were fun.

Mom’s attended one-room Raughley Country School until high school. Her
Mom was her teacher and very strict. She told Mom she gave her B’s instead
of the A’s she deserved because she was afraid she’d be accused of favoritism.
Ever stoic, Mom accepted this with no animosity. She graduated from Harrington
School in 1936. She remembers picking strawberries for a penny a quart and
buying a winter coat. She always felt lucky as there was enough to eat and a
coloring book and crayons at Christmas.

Though she had wanted to be a teacher like her mother, the Depression squashed
her dream. When Aunt Sally offered to lend her money to go to business school,
she jumped at the chance. Always reticent, before the war and scared to death,
she moved to Philadelphia to attend Pierce Business School. She graduated and
made life-long friends with whom she still keeps in touch. Her goal was to make
$100 a week. She worked at the Corn Exchange Bank until 1942 when she moved
back to Harrington and worked for Mr. J.C. Messner, Superintendent of Harrington
Special Schools. Her career as Senior Secretary, which she loved, lasted 33 years,
7 months, and 4 days, as she still recites. Mom was also a Notary Public, helped
Daddy publish our town newspaper, and had a private typing service.

Never one to sit around, in the summers before she was married, Mom worked
as a waitress in Rehoboth Beach, as did Violet, her best friend, who had grown
up on the farm next to hers. During the war, Mom was a switchboard operator
at the Henlopen Hotel. She finally came out of her shell and dated a handsome
soldier, a musician in the Army Band. But fate intervened when her boyfriend
was transferred. As in any first love, she always wondered what happened to
him. Years ago, I surprised Mom and tracked him down, but his family said
he had passed.

Back in Harrington one day, she decided to go to Burton’s snack bar for a coke.
A jaunty fellow, W.C. Burgess, sauntered up to her and with a hopeful saucy
smile tossed her a line “Where have you been all my life?”  Maybe it was the
gleam in his eyes, but she was hooked. Not long after that, they eloped!

Mom fondly remembers an emergency trip they took to Florida to see a dying
uncle. He rallied and my parents were offered an unexpected overnight trip to
Havana, Cuba. Mom jokes that it was so memorable as Winnie never took another
vacation! They had the time of their lives. I remember seeing colored tropical
hot spot post cards and Mom telling me she wanted me to go someday. It took
me over 5 decades, but last year I went!

Our family? Kitty was first-born, and a year later, the stork dropped me into
the mix. Daddy wanted a boy, so I was his token tomboy, and I loved every
minute of it. Mom would tell you her daughters, Kitty, now a retired RN, and
Judy, a clinical psychologist and professional coach, were her greatest
accomplishments. I say having her for my Mom is my #1 life’s blessing.

Mom worked tirelessly along side of Daddy, publisher and editor of the
Harrington Journal. She was always proud of his ability to work night and
day to assure the paper would get out. Mom was so proud of Daddy and his
work ethic, his naughty sense of humor, and his loving to dance. Though he
passed 36 years ago after a terrible car accident, she joyfully reminisces
about their life together.

“Family, home, and job” Mom says, made her life happy, along with life’s simple
pleasures like going to the beach or eating fried chicken and Grotto’s pizza.
She also loved bookkeeping at the Harrington Senior Center, until her
deafness precluded it.

Was Mom adventurous? She’d tell you, “No.” With a grin, I’d beg to differ.
All I had to do was use a bit of passionate persuasion, and off she’d trot.
She’d say, “You lead, and I will follow.” We joyfully traveled together for
almost 40 years. Yes, Ken, Mom and I had the time of our lives together.

Mom’ greatest adventures include Kenya and Tanzania African safaris,
climbing the Great Wall of China, holding a tiger in Malaysia, riding an
elephant in India, and seeing the crown jewels in Russia. She climbed the
pyramids and Macchu Picchu in Peru. She loved Hawaii, Nepal, Singapore,
Japan, Vietnam, Israel, Scandinavia, South America, and traveling down the
Amazon. Europe, Australia, and New Zealand were also joyfully explored.

She fondly remembers when I commandeered a Chinese farmer’s wagon after
she and Judy got stranded on a mountaintop. His toothless grin announced his
glee, too. And she’ll never forget us almost getting robbed in Bali. Whew! I had
to do some real talking to get us out of that! Her favorite story transpired in
Madagascar. We were walking along minding our own business when a black
and white lemur monkey jumped down on her head, grabbed her banana, but
chewed on her ear first! This might be the one travel chapter she would like to delete!

Floating down the Nile and at age 82 para-sailing over Bora Bora in French
Polynesia, were unforgettable experiences. Visiting exchange student special
friend, Anita Sapunar Ponce, in Bolivia added treasured memories.

When she was 88, we were all thrilled when Mom became bionic! We wept tears
of joy when her cochlear implant was activated and miraculously, she could
hear! Not perfectly, but enough to be elated. She was the oldest patient to
receive an implant, yet she had a terrific response. She had a long road ahead
to hear TV and to talk on the telephone, but she learned to translate the
mechanical sounds into words.

Though she would never toot her own horn, Mom is a radio star in Manitowoc, WI,
where she regularly appeared on my radio shows, the last time a few weeks ago.
Even with deafness before she had her cochlear implant surgery, deaf Mom sat
beside me with staff writing out questions listeners asked. With a chipper voice,
she answered in great voice, not able to hear a sound. What guts! She also
appeared on my Chicago-based nationally syndicated Dr. Judy Show”.
Her response was always the same, “I never thought in a million years
I’d be doing this!”

“Grammy” is a bigger star to my 3 kids and 4 grand kids who all loved it when
Grammy Louise came to visit and make her famous fruit salad. She has scads of
pictures and can spend hours on her computer letting memories gently float by.

Words of wisdom from Mom? “Have the courage to accept your fate and make
the most of what you can accomplish. Don’t ever sweat the small stuff.”  When
she asked me to write a memoir for her when her high school honored her, her
kind request? “Don’t make it mushy. I am just a farm girl at heart and don’t
regret any of my years.”

Today Mom is wistful and blissful. “I feel so lucky to be at the end of my
days here in this heaven on earth with Cathy and Bill and the pets.
I never thought I’d get to stay in Delaware and be in real home.
I can’t believe it! Everyday is grand.”

Yep, that’s my mom, humility, spunk, tenacity, and courage. I salute her. And
as she told my son after a recent surgery, “Sean, this old horse is still a kickin’ high.
OK, maybe not quite as high, but I am still kicking!”

Want to make Mom’s day? Flash her a Happy Birthday message at
lburgess87@yahoo.com. Her arthritic fingers can’t return your email, but she
will be grateful forever. Her smiles will pay it forward.

Happy 93rd Birthday, Mom!

All my love,


P.S. Judy loves to hear your comments.
Feel free to send her questions you may have!
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