Milestones are with us throughout our lives

J. H. Osborne • Apr 14, 2019 at 6:30 PM

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the passage of time. Another sure way to know you’re getting on in years is the level of “milestone” birthdays you celebrate with loved ones. Sixty is the new 30, 90 the new 50. It seems unreal to me that nearly 27 years have passed since we celebrated my grandmother Maude Ward Osborne’s 90th birthday with a 90-inch-long cake covered with 90 custom-made candles. As a team of us swarmed the cake to light all those candles, Momaw (say Mom awe — this is apparently a lesser-known version of mamaw) began to look nervous. And nervous wasn’t in her nature.

To her relief and the delight of all those gathered, my father walked her to one end of the cake-laden table and presented her with a blow-dryer decorated with a big pink bow to match her dress. And in no time, she’d blown out all her candles. I’d like to think all her wishes came true.

I would have been 29. I guess for some that’s a milestone of sorts, last stop before 30. Now I have nieces well past 30 and a great niece old enough to drive. That makes me as anxious as Momaw looking at us lighting those 90 three-inch candles atop that 90-inch birthday cake at Cabin #9 (the big one) at Eastman Cabins back in 1992.

Last August, we were again at Cabin #9 to celebrate my mother’s 85th birthday. We had a big cake, but not an inch and a candle for each year. After all, I’m not 29 anymore.

A few weeks ago my last living aunt, Gracie Tankersley Wallen, celebrated her 90th birthday. Her family surprised her with a big cookout at the Sullivan Gardens home of her son and daughter-in-law, Gary and Margaret Wallen. Mom went all evening. I was working and only got to stay a bit. Gracie is a very young 90. I will never think of her as “old.” 

Mom and Gracie have always been close and are quick to share many funny memories. One involves making homemade candy and someone dropping chewing gum right out of her mouth and into the skillet as the mixture was being stirred hard by the other. Did you know gum just melts away in such a situation? Another involves neither of the two being able to do what my grandmother Pearl (Mom’s mom, Gracie’s mother-in-law) instructed them to do: go out in the farmyard and kill a chicken for supper — even though they were both farm girls.

My brother, Keith, had a milestone birthday last week: the big 6-0. I didn’t get home from the Sullivan County Commission’s six-hour work session until well after midnight, so I didn’t get to join Mom in singing “Happy Birthday” to him over the telephone. But I did do a little research and found the Kingsport News from the day he was born. Fittingly, the headline read: “Nixon Urges GOP To Stress ‘Conservatism.’ ” Forget astrological signs. Next time you want to speculate about someone’s personality, just ask what the headline was in their hometown newspaper they day they were born.

I’d asked Mom what she remembered about Keith’s arrival. She said Dad was working “3 to 11” (at Mead Paper), and when it was time for his shift, she felt fine and sent him on his way. A few hours later, she began having contractions and Dad rushed home. They dropped soon-to-be big sister Pamela off at our grandparents’ house on the way to Holston Valley, where Dr. Christiansen would be waiting. He’d assured Mom and Dad that because Mom had already had one child, this delivery would be a breeze. Mom was glad to hear that because Pamela’s birth hadn’t been easy.

Dad hunkered down in the waiting room. It’s how it was done back then — fathers-to-be waited and paced, well outside the delivery room. Hours passed. Other men came, became new fathers, and left. Dad waited. Finally, after daylight the next morning, Dr. Christiansen told Dad he’d have to do a C-section. Pamela had weighed only 6 pounds, 2.5 ounces and Mom had narrowly escaped a C-section with that. Keith ended up being 7 pounds, 6 ounces.

Pamela remembers Dad driving her to the hospital for her first look at the new baby. Mom was standing in an upstairs window waving and holding Keith ... and a new pair of red shoes for Pamela. On the way home, Pamela told Dad she wanted Mom to hurry home and bring her those shoes, but to leave that baby at the hospital.

I don’t know how long it took her to outgrow those shoes. I suspect she outgrew her resentment toward “that baby” when this one came along nearly three years later. Ah. Milestones.

J.H. Osborne covers Sullivan County government for the Times News. Email him at [email protected]