I know plenty of people in their eighties, my Dad being one of them. Octogenarians are young, compared to the dozens Willard Scott recognizes every day who have lived a century or more. This month, my friend Bernice Mason stepped from the birthday platform of her eighties onto the next tier (I had to look up the term for someone in their nineties – nonagenarian).
Times I’ve stopped by Bernice’s, she might be knitting items for the church bazaar, or making time to read. Not long ago, she showed me the latest book by Dr. Phil’s wife on the stand next to her and offeredit to me before she’d even finished it.
She usually makes it to Sunday school and church, but Bernice decided to stay home the one week that our pastor planned a surprise party for her. Why risk trouble when things looked slippery outside? Dismayed when she didn’t show up, he arranged to pick up his guest of honor.
Whether she was surprised or suspected something was up, Bernice took our attentions with grace – the two dozen roses The Rev. Fink presented during our worship service while we sang Happy Birthday, and the cake and punch served in her honor after church.
Bernice has always been one of my champions. As my Sunday school teacher years ago, she confided to our class how and why she pledged her service to God. I’ll just say that I was greatly impressed and have held her confession as an example for myself when I fall short.
Now, at 90, she’s still fulfilling that pledge – driving others to church, cooking meals for church functions, and the annual candy-making where, for the past 30 (or so) Novembers, she sets the pace for our hardtack production. Standing over the gas stove, stirring colors and flavors into dozens of steaming pans, she times them all to turn out just right. She’s kept my dad busily pressed stirring up the batches of candy and rotating the pans to keep up with her. Neither she nor Dad likes being slowed down, though their years have begun to demand it.
We offered to take Bernice home after we’d all socialized over pieces of her birthday cake. Pastor Tyrone teased, “The two dozen roses cost less for me than buying 90 candles for your cake.” Carrying the great bunch of red roses, I saw her to her door, thinking how quickly my 54 years of knowing her had gone by. I guessed she was feeling the same and I suggested to her, “I’ll bet it seems like so much has happened as the years went by and at the same time, how did it all go so quickly?”
She gave me a look that said I figured it right. I wished her Happy Birthday again, knowing she would celebrate a few more times during the next week with her kids and other groups of friends. I hugged and kissed this remarkable woman who means so much to me, and I marveled at how life can be, all at once, long and short; slightly bitter, and yet, oh, so sweet.