Location: Bend, Oregon
In the hour leading up to my walking down the aisle, my 4-year old flower girl was giddy with excitement and kept asking when it would be her turn. But when the music finally played and she saw everyone looking back at her, she bailed. All eyes on her was not, in fact, what she had in mind. My mom quickly jumped in, taking over the flower girl’s basket and her duties. Mom gleefully showered our delighted wedding guests with flower petals, delighting in her new role, and pretty much stole the show. When the rabbi began the ceremony, he said, “I always wondered where Katya got her joie de vivre. Now I know.”
That joie de vivre has been a consistent theme throughout my mom’s life. It is the unifying characteristic that underlies her many accomplishments and life experiences, and it is what most people take away from meeting her and knowing her. From sneaking a cigarette in her Swiss convent boarding school to traveling the world (first as a Swissair stewardess and later as the wife of a Foreign Service diplomat) to reinventing herself professionally every few years to mastering tennis, then bridge, and now Boggle, to being the most active and engaged grandmother you can imagine (even though twenty years separate her oldest and youngest grandchildren), it is my mom’s joie de vivre that fuels it all.
There are so many things that are impressive and extraordinary about my mom. One glance at her night table is all you need to get a sense that you are not dealing with an ordinary woman, with books, magazines and newspapers in several languages in constant rotation. (I can’t even keep up with all she reads in English, let alone in other languages!) She has used her linguistic skills and people skills to not only adjust to new countries with ease (with many of the moves happening when the advances we now take for granted were unavailable, such as email, internet, disposable diapers… you name it!) but also to take on a variety of jobs, any one of which would have been impressive enough, especially when you consider that my mom – one of the smartest people I know – does not have a college degree. She has been a tour guide in Washington, DC, a French and Spanish teacher at the International School of Islamabad, the Director of the German Aid program in Kinshasa, and a real estate agent extraordinaire when my parents retired to Bend.
In her retirement, my mom has modeled how to remain engaged and active. She has volunteered on campaigns and spearheaded volunteer initiatives. She delights in her children and grandchildren and is an active part of all of our lives. And she could probably hike longer and further than any of us, even at eighty-three. That is the age she is turning today, and no one wears it better. Throughout my life, she has modeled embracing challenges, going for things with nothing but chutzpah and a belief in yourself to lead the way, taking advantage of every experience and opportunity life throws at you, and always enjoying the ride.
Happy Birthday, Mom! You make the most of each turn around the sun and I love you.