My mother is about to turn 85 years old. Her birthday is next Thursday, Veteran's Day, but we can't celebrate in the middle of the week, so tomorrow, my sisters and I will be hosting an open house in her honor.
Most of my family lives near Atlanta, so I'll be flying down there later today, and I'll be sleeping in my mother's guest room for a few days. It's furnished with my grandmother's four-poster bed and matching dressers, lace curtains and a braided rug made by my grandmother years and years ago. She used scraps from her sewing to make rugs for every room in the house.
My sister, Karen, who lives near my mother, is opening up her house for the party, and since she's invited nearly 30 women, we're doing an open house instead of a more formal sit-down affair. We're all capable of making food for this sort of thing, but we decided to give ourselves a break and have it catered, complete with a traditional coconut cake. I've got to tell you, a lot is riding on this cake for me. My mother used to make this southern dessert when we were kids. It's a white layer cake with a seven-minute icing topped off with shredded coconut. Not just anyone can make a proper seven-minute icing. It's a complicated business, and I've never tried making it myself. It's possible the catered version with have regular white frosting instead of the crunchy stuff I love, but either way, it will still taste like the best of my childhood.
Over the winter, my mother will be giving up her house and moving in with my sister. Her eye sight has gotten increasingly worse, and she spends so much time alone, it isn't healthy. The move will be a good thing in the long run, but in the short run, it's going to mean having to sort through decades of belonging and choosing what to keep and what to give away or sell. What will happen to the China in the cupboards and the antique plates on the walls? What will she do with all of the clothes she keeps even though she hasn't worn for years? The garage is full of my father's old tools, and the closets are full of all the stuff people shove in their closets year after year after year.
Emptying a house is no easy task for anyone, and it's going to be gut-wrenching for my mother, I'm sure. At least for the next few days, we'll spend a few days in her house as if she were going to spend the rest of her life there.