We celebrated my mom’s 70th birthday Saturday night; an event tailor-made for a woman born, raised and educated in the South yet who has spent the last 45 plus years in the southern-only-by-geography city of Miami.

My stepfather and I were in charge of the planning but my mother really wanted to have some input. (Some would substitute the word control for input. Some, but not her daughter.) She wanted a menu of Southern food, lots of dancing, no gifts and she wanted the party to be at their house, in the backyard. Oh, and no okra. She can’t eat it anymore after hearing it being described as slimey by her friend.
So my stepfather and I came up with a theme of a “Night of Dining and Dancing Under the Southern Stars” and then told my mom to go find something else to do. For two months. Not an easy feat. And we did have to give in a little and put her in charge of the music. She rented a full-size juke box filled with Johnny Mathis to the Mamas and the Papas to Will.i.am. Something for everybody. And the juke box was definitely a hit.
On Saturday night, 50 people filled the backyard, which was lit by multi-colored Chinese lanterns, and ate hors d’oeuvres of mini grilled pimento and cheese sandwiches and fried green tomatoes. They sat down at red and white checked cloth covered tables and enjoyed buttermilk spiced fried chicken, a southern salad with peach vinaigrette, sugared pecans and blue cheese and baskets of just made sweet potato fries. And they danced on the deck which was covered with black and white flooring. 
The invitation had requested that guests honor the Birthday Girl in a manner that suited them. Suggestions included bringing an old picture, writing down a story, sharing a memory or even wearing something Maggie-ish. (My mother has had a very specific sense of style over the years including a phase of having permed hair, and wearing vests and multi-colored socks.) And many people did honor her in one of these ways. My sister-in-law, traveling all the way from California, toasted my mom while wearing a compilation of gifts given to both her and my brother from my mom. Light up Halloween socks, Valentine’s Day boxers and a random vintage t-shirt. One friend knitted her a beautiful scarf. Other people wrote songs and told old stories guaranteed to get laughs. My brother put together an amazing slide show and also filmed his three kids, who weren’t there, performing a Happy Birthday song with one singing, one on the piano and the little one doing an improvisational dance while wearing a tutu. So cute.

Great party, great night. I think it was exactly how she wanted it.

I wrote the following tribute to her and read it Saturday night while wearing an old vest and drinking vodka.
For My Mom On The Occasion Of Her 70th Birthday
The pressure has been on for me to come up with some way to honor, roast and toast my mom on the occasion of her 70th birthday. Pressure that has only come from myself, wanting to honor the most important woman in my life.
So, I’ve given this a lot thought. And I’ve made many false starts and done the computer equivalent of balling up a piece of paper and throwing it in the trash can. So, I’ll just start here, about me and her.
There are so many similarities between me and my mom
  • We look alike; especially as we both get older. Every once in awhile, I’ll stop short in front of a mirror and see my mom staring back at me
  • People say we have the same smile & the same laugh
  • We both like vodka
  • And like to shop at Anthropologie and Lucky Brand
  • We both like to dance and sing but would never be able to do it professionally
  • We both like to drink our morning coffee in silence while we read the New York Times, even when we are together
  • We’re both writers, though she’s actually made money from it
  • And most importantly, we’re both happy in our lives
I could go on but as proof of our similarities, I would like to share with you an excerpt from a letter she wrote to me while I was at Emory, in the spring of 1985, when she was about the same age as I am now.
“And this is me talking to myself – things do not have to be perfect! I personally am working on being more laid back and not being nibbled up by all the silly lists of things I tend to have in my head. Hard to change but I have more and more of a feeling that’s really a better way to live!”
I could have been the writer of that excerpt. I have had that conversation with myself. Frequently. And it is only in the past few years, probably since I married my husband, that I have been able to take that tact. And this letter was written, I might point out, less than a month after she had married Bernie. Coincidence? I think not. (By the way, their 25th wedding anniversary is in 3 days!)
But we also have our differences.
  • She’s a little nicer than I am
  • And more forgiving of people
  • Her husband’s skin is darker than my husband’s
  • She can eat just one potato chip
  • She can pass gas at will (and I don’t mean my son). And then blame it on a duck.
  • Mammoo is spatially dyslexic. My sense of direction is much better.
  • My ears still stick out
  • My breasts are larger (Sorry kids)
  • She has an amazingly artistic eye, obvious to anyone who looks at her portraits (even Jodi Reamer)
  • And I don’t think I would have written this excerpt from a letter that she wrote to me when I was at Camp Coleman and had just gotten my period for the first time.
“Well, I just had a feeling that your friend would come along this summer – what a big event! Even tho it’s a pain, it’s also pretty exciting. I’m so happy Nicki was around to help you – tell her I think she is the best “Mommy substitute” you ever have had. I will treat you both to a manicure (or a pedicure if your fingernails aren’t ready) to celebrate when you get home.
Now! Take care of yourself, Meow –drink lots of liquids and eat good things (even if you don’t love the food). You really do need it. With your periods you loose (sic) a little iron – so eat meat, raisins etc. Don’t laugh! (and don’t read this at my 70th birthday party.)” Just kidding about that last part.
So tonight, on the celebration of my mother’s 70th birthday, I raise a glass of vodka on the rocks with a twist and tell her everything that she already knows: what a wonderful mother and friend she is, how much I love her and how happy I am that we are all here tonight. Hope there is enough light for everybody. And, in the words of my tall German friend Uta, “Prost”.