Soyrietta on her 88th birthday in 2009

Today is my mother-in-law’s 90th birthday. Hooray for Soyrietta. I honestly didn’t think she’d make it.

Soyrietta’s been living with us since late September 2010. Up ’til then, she’d lived by herself in Iowa City. Then she took a tumble, fractured a hip and had surgery. Broken hips at age 88 when you already have some other health issues are very dangerous. I think we all kinda-sorta figured this was a fork in the road that didn’t lead to someplace good.

It’s almost 15 months later, the hip healed up amazingly well and she is helping do laundry every Thursday. My t-shirts have never been folded so nicely! Last Saturday night, we all went to a brass band concert and then drove around a bit and looked at Christmas lights. She was really tired when we got back but it was obvious she’d had a great time.

I know she really misses her buddies in Iowa City. She misses going to exercise class at the indoor pool at the Iowa City Rec Center and she misses going to Panera afterward. She misses driving and going to church and being mobile. As I’ve watched her make big adjustments to her life with us, she has taught me many things about growing older.

A few weeks ago, Dixie sent out a call to her buddies reminding them the Big 9-0 was coming up. With the five that came today, Soyrietta has gotten 54 cards. Friday night, about 15 friends came by to sing her Christmas carols and Happy Birthday.

Dixie and Soyrietta at Dixie's non-birthday party, Oct. 2011

Soyrietta (pronounced like Sarita — she was named after the daughter of the local doctor) was born in a town called Cashiers(pronounced CASH-erz) in the Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina. It’s an incredibly beautiful part of the USA. The people there are great storytellers. Dixie’s cousin, Thomas Franklin Dillard, has a bunch of stories about bootleggers and cars that drove off the mountainside (“It was a ’56 Studebaker, Steve, and that car’s still down there.”)

Cashiers is high-dollar real estate these days with the rich people from Atlanta and Florida buying second homes in the mountains where it’s a whole lot cooler in the summer. Back when Soyrietta was growing up, it was hardscrabble Appalachia where people put ringer washers out on their front porch as a status symbol. Soyrietta got married when she was 14 (her parents disapproved) and had Dixie’s brother Tom when she was 16. Life hasn’t been easy for her but she’s the toughest person I’ve ever met. More than 60 years of smoking (and about that many enjoying the cocktail hour) and she’s made it to 90. Smoking is going to get her but she’s not going easily. She is the absolute living epitomy of Dylan Thomas’s words:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Soyrietta is very, very sweet to me, oftentimes giving me credit for something Dixie’s done and always giving me more credit than I deserve. I think she’s a little freaked out by a guy doing all the cooking but I only do it to get out of doing dishes. It sounds bad to say this but sometimes I think she flirts with me. We have dinner together every night. Before she moved in, Dixie and I would usually eat separately. (Remember, we spend an hour and a half in the car together commuting every weekday). Now, we get caught up on who came by — hospice, Meals on Wheels, Pastor Ed, the UPS guy — and talk about her day. It’s been great to have her here when we need the cable guy or a repair person comes by. If she wasn’t here, we’d have to be missing work to let them in.

Dudley and Soyrietta resting after working the crossword puzzle

She’s become big buddies with Dudley the Cat. She talks to him all the time and complains when he doesn’t come down and sleep on her bed during the day. Apparently she hasn’t noticed that he’s a hod or so shy of a full load of bricks. If she has, it hasn’t prejudiced her against him. Come to think of it, she probably views me the same way which explains why she’s so nice to me.

I like to make her laugh. One night I was re-telling the story of how Dixie and I met and got engaged in less than a month. I told Soyrietta that after we got engaged, I told Dixie the only thing left to make my life complete would be to have my mother-in-law live with us. I said that now she was living with us, I have attained Nirvana at last. She knew I was making that up and laughed.

Another time (last story, I promise), Dixie went up to the Lincoln Wine Bar with her buddy, M.B. Soyrietta said, “Dixie’s going up to the wine bar on a Thursday night?” I told her she just wanted to spend some time with her friend. I asked Soyrietta, “Didn’t you ever go out with girlfriends?”

“Not until later in life,” Soyrietta said.

I replied, “Dixie’s 60. This IS later in life!”

So Soyrietta is 90 and that’s way more later than life than the vast majority of humans ever see. I won’t lie and tell you it hasn’t been without its stresses. Dixie’s dad is in declining health and early this fall her dad had a stroke and I was hospitalized with a really funky gallbladder. With taking care of her mom and me, and worrying about her dad, Dixie got pretty stressed out.

Soyrietta and I had always been friendly but over the last 15 months, we’ve become friends. One thing I know for certain. When Soyrietta does crosses over to the other side, I am going to miss her ever so much more because of the time she spent with us.

Happy 90th, Sweetie!



  1. Kevin on 12.30.2011

    What a great write up about a very interesting lady! Good for you and Dixie for embracing the generational quid pro quo. Every time I find myself stressed about taking care of my Mom’s affairs or upset with her for her lack of focus on things I think are important, I try and remember what restraint she must have shown in not outright strangling any of her three sons when we were young!
    As of late I have been transferring old 8mm and other video of generations gone by to DVD and we play them at family gatherings. Sort of a reminder to the younger folks of who their people are.

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