My great-grandmother, Edna Alexander, or “Big Mama”, was born on January 8, 1888. My father was born in 1930, on her forty-second birthday. And of course, Elvis Presley was born in 1935 on my father’s fifth birthday. It isn’t unusual to have family members who share birth dates with each other or with famous or infamous people. After all, there are only 365 dates on the calendar and about 360,000 people born each day. My granddaughters share their day. I realized only this week that I share my own birthday with Ansel Adams, photographer.
I don’t often think of the day that my father died, and I had to look up the date that Big Mama died. Oh, I have vivid memories of both days. In fact, I was at work when Mom called to give me the news about Big Mama. I think it was the only time she ever called me at work. But however emotional those memories are, it is their shared date of birth that brings forth the best memories of them and the impact they had on my life. It is today, January 8, that gives me a day-long “movie in my mind” of some of my favorite days with them.
My father and I did not always get along. As most girls do, I alternated between thinking he was my hero and my worst enemy. He was gregarious, opinionated, generous, obstinate, and demanding. He made me laugh often and cry more than once. Eventually we developed a strong friendship that made allowances for our many differences. We shared a love of gardening and travel. He was always curious and enjoyed hearing and reading about other people and places. One of my fondest childhood memories is of him sitting in his chair reading an encyclopedia to me. We only had about four volumes, giveaways from a grocery store, but we enjoyed every page together!
Big Mama, on the other hand, was my soul mate. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be just like her. She was feisty and funny and strong. She was a good cook. She loved her garden and pretty flowers. She joked and laughed and had a strange way of saying, “yasteday” that made me laugh. Her house smelled strongly of the snuff she discreetly dipped. I admit that I didn’t have the opportunity to spend as much time with her as other family members, so I probably didn’t know as many details of her life or personality, but that never mattered. We shared important conversations as we stood in the quiet of her garden. We also shared some goofy times. I remember that she always wore a dress…and pantaloons. One day as she bent over to pick a flower I snapped a picture of her (yes I had a camera even then), and she immediately wanted to know if her pantaloons were showing. She threatened to whip me if I let anyone see them! Then we both laughed hysterically.
I can’t say that I ever knew much about Elvis. I loved to hear him sing and I think I saw every movie he ever made, but I wasn’t the kind of star-struck groupie who knew his favorite foods or followed his every move. I had a classmate who attended a concert during which he touched her hand, and she swore to never wash it again! But I admired a dozen singers, and his behavior off the stage didn’t exactly impress my dad. Sadly, the fact that he shared his birthday didn’t impress dad either. So it was never a big deal at our house!
So here we are again, January 8. I’m sure thousands of people are celebrating a birthday at this very moment (Happy Birthday Tricia!). And I’m spending the day celebrating some great memories…