April 26, 2012


When Mama goes in for chemo, it’s a 7-hour affair, and the nurses periodically ask her to recite her birthday; we’re not sure why they do this–I’m sure it’s to check on her lucidity and if she’s doing okay, but we joke that they’re just making sure she’s not nuts.

Mama always gives them the correct day, June 24, but she cranks the birth year back by ten years, straight-faced. She does it every time. The first time Mama did it, it startled the nurse. I could almost see it working through that sweet girl’s brain: Okay. Here’s this lady, fighting cancer, hooked up to all of these horrible tubes, and she’s goofing like a loon about her age?

It’s a running  joke with the nurses now–I think they’d be disappointed if Mama quit lying to them. That’s just Mama for you. She’s never been big on the whole aging process.

Mama shakes her fist at the whole aging thing, which is why the salesgirls love her at the Chanel counter.  She’s got more lotions and potions than anyone I know.  Well, maybe I shouldn’t talk, because I purged my cosmetics drawer the other day and was horrified at the amount of “product” I have rolling around in there. Ah, vanity. It must be genetic.

But you have to understand that there’s a difference between vanity and Southern vanity. I will slap my expensive moisturizer on and then happily run to the grocery store in sweatpants, a ponytail, and maybe a little lipgloss. Mama would never be caught dead looking like that. All my life, she’s been telling me, “You know, you could put on a little more lipstick, sweetie.”  The fact that I do not own even one belt is an offense to her.

Mama shows up at chemo in full makeup, with her cutest hair on, earrings and  bracelets, and a colorful scarf that matches her outfit. The first time we came to the Infusion Center, the nurse complimented Mama on how pretty she looked and then said, “But you know, most of the people show up in their pajamas and it’s perfectly okay. We just want you to be comfortable.”

Mama was aghast. “Pajamas?” she hissed at me when the nurse was out of earshot. “God, can you imagine?” She wrinkled her nose in revulsion. “Old and sick people show up in pajamas.  I am not old and sick.”

And she’s right. She isn’t. She’s Mama. And if she wants to give age the middle finger, she has my blessing.  I’m not so thrilled about it either. When, in my 40th year, I looked down and discovered my first white pubic hair in a Target bathroom, I went home and took a Xanax. Stuff like that is just grossly unfair.

Aging isn’t all bad, though. There are some benefits. My mom’s friend Jan (a very shy, sweet woman) has an aging mother named Joyce. Much to Jan’s horror, as Joyce gets older, she is getting  increasingly (and blatantly) frank with people. Whatever thought flows through Joyce’s brain comes directly out of her mouth.

“Good God, what is wrong with your hair? You look like a eunuch.”

“You call this a quiche? This isn’t even edible, for Chrissakes.”

“I’ve always hated that lamp in your living room. Why on Earth do you keep that thing around? It makes everyone look orange.”

While Jan is horrified by this candor, I think it’s kind of liberating. Wouldn’t it be nice to just say it like you see it whenever the spirit strikes you?  Like Mama–but in a different way–Joyce is giving age the middle finger, and you’ll hear no protest from me.

*Awkward segue*

My mother’s Aunt Fida, who got very dotty in her old age, refused to give up the keys to her car.  She’d drive through town regularly, committing terrible offenses like driving on the wrong side of the road or parking on someone’s lawn or ignoring stop signs.

The family was terrified and mortified by this behavior. They begged her to give up her keys, but she refused.

“You’re going to get arrested, you know,” my grandfather said.

“Pffft,” she said, waving a hand dismissively. “Nobody arrests an old lady. At my age, you do something stupid, people honk at you and all you have to do is smile and wave. Just smile and wave.”

As I grow older,  I think that maybe Fida was on to something. When dealing with the hard talons of time, maybe it’s just best to smile and wave.

{ 51 comments… read them below or add one }

Alisa April 26, 2012 at 6:44 am

Yes yes yes!!! I grew up in the South and my mother always told me to put on lipstick b/c I could use some “color”. After a decade in Southern California, I became a permanent flip flops and sweatpants for everything kind of girl, and I don’t think she’ll ever understand it.

I for one, cannot WAIT to be old enough to be that frank and bold and rude. If I have to be an old woman, you better believe I’m taking advantage. I might even start smoking and drinking Scotch at 5 pm on the dot as well. Who knows?

Really loved this post. Loved.


Abby April 26, 2012 at 6:52 am

Is that your mom? She is stunning!
As for the age thing, I’m screwed, as I don’t show up looking fancy and in makeup for anything, much less grueling chemo treatments.

But I am VERY familiar with being around old people, and I mean 80-years-old and up, not 50 or something ridiculous clueless teenagers view as old. When you reach a certain point, you earn a certain amount of leeway for things like bodily functions, slightly veiled racism and the reveal of your real age–most often because they really just don’t remember ;) It’s endearing, and a lot can be learned from the years they may hide in the years that we get to share with them. Great post ;)


TKW April 26, 2012 at 7:14 am


Mama is beautiful, isn’t she? And I LOVE your old lady stories!


Wendi @ Bon Appetit Hon April 26, 2012 at 6:52 am

I hope your mamma never loses her spunk and spirit. Love the fact that she shows up for treatment dressed to the hilt.

PS, your mamma and I share a birthday. I think that is just wonderful.


Carol April 26, 2012 at 7:41 am

There are advantages to this aging thing, and you just have to learn when to play that card. Smile and wave, I love it!


elizabeth April 26, 2012 at 7:44 am

We all need our armor to go into battle. That your Mama is refusing to change or settle just because of some chemo is awesome–and her facial expression in that photo is priceless. She clearly doesn’t suffer fools gladly. Badass.

My grandmom did have to give up her car but only because she totaled it. And to this day she’s not pleased about that one bit.


TKW April 27, 2012 at 8:33 am


Ha! She IS a badass!


alita April 26, 2012 at 7:45 am

My mother (a southern mama, too) would not be caught dead wearing pajamas to her chemo either. And I grew up hearing the same things about self preservation. The finger has been given by these very strong women (yours- mine) and it is so very inspiring isn’t it?

Also my great granny (my mama’s granny) drove around in her pickup truck until she was 90. She fished in the Mississippi every day until she was put into a home. I think that most women are strong (their strengths sometimes hidden) but I think that Southern women have a helluva lot of grit in their bones that make their age just a number.

Thank you for sharing this. Your mother is stunning! I pray for only the best years to come.



Jenna April 26, 2012 at 7:58 am

That level of frankness does sound kind of liberating, as long as it doesn’t drive people away from you in hordes, heh heh. And I’ll keep the ‘smile and wave’ trick in mind for the future years.


Jennifer April 26, 2012 at 8:45 am

I kind of frank and rude now. I can’t imagine what I’ll be like at 80. :)

My momma would be like your mama, full on make up and jewelry.


Gale @ TDT April 26, 2012 at 8:48 am

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Mama is a LOOKER!!! Bone structure that would make Sigourney Weaver jealous. Incredible. But more than that, I love her spirit. Love that she shows up to chemo in full costume and makeup. Love that she lies to nurses about her age. And love that she’s still throwing punches to the aging process. Bully for you, Mama. Bully for you!


TKW April 27, 2012 at 8:35 am


Can you believe she used to hate that picture? I love it–she’s a stunner.


Arnebya April 26, 2012 at 8:56 am

I am in love with all people who give aging the middle finger. Your mama is gorgeous! My husband’s grandmother is 92 and dances in the church’s senior dance ministry. One look at her shows nothing over age 80. She still drives and lives alone. She’s very spry and determined to let everyone know as much (right after she has her daily workout at the wellness center). I love frankness from older people. I never take it as intentionally malicious. Rather, it’s…candor and why continue to bite one’s tongue for the sake of silly old “feeeeeeeelings”? You need to know that your living room is orange because you’ve lived with it this way so long you just can’t see it!

And now I’m giggling b/c the voices of the penguins of Madagascar are in my head: smile and wave, boys, smile and wave.


Kelly April 26, 2012 at 9:44 am

I’m pretty sure every Southern Lady has those same earrings. And a belt. And they wear nylons in church. The Lord doesn’t make ’em like that anymore. Your mama is a treasure. (Also? She should meet my grandma. After major surgery last week, when they asked my grandma her age in recovery, she literally flipped them off. They knew she couldn’t speak, the bastards!)


TKW April 27, 2012 at 8:36 am


I’m pretty sure your grandma and I would get along smashingly. :)


Sarah @ Semi-Sweet April 26, 2012 at 9:51 am

I’ve been missing you, TKW – found you again in my reader and once again, your posts have me thinking deep thoughts and laughing out loud. Love this one! As someone who’s had a VIP seat in the infusion unit, I think smiling and waving are great ways to deal with life’s hardships . . . but I also love to flip a good middle finger at ’em too.


TKW April 27, 2012 at 8:37 am

Glad to see you back!


Maria April 26, 2012 at 10:02 am

I love that your Mama is flipping off the chemo, the cancer and the nurses who think she should act a certain way because of what she’s fighting. My dear mother in law showed up to Andrew’s First Communion with her wig and surgery drain in tow, and bought a new outfit to boot. She practically ran laps on her hospital floor after both of her emergency surgeries because she didn’t want to be in the hospital with sick old people. BADASS!

As for me, my grandmother passed away at 100. She raised four kids in poverty, escaped Castro’s regime at 60, and learned to speak English in NYC, attending night school. She played the piano beautifully, in spite of arthritis, until she had to be put in a home. My kids better watch out. I plan to flip off the aging process too!


TKW April 27, 2012 at 8:38 am


Your grandmother sounds like quite the lady!


amanda {the habit of being} April 26, 2012 at 10:29 am

This made me laugh! Your mom sounds so familiar…actually, she sounds like my grandmother. My grandmother who still only wears the best department store makeup and plenty of it. Last time I saw her, she was wearing silver ballet flats and carrying a silver handbag ;-) Glad to know that with the chemo and all your mom is still herself and still full of life!


Cathy April 26, 2012 at 10:46 am

Your mom is gorgeous! And, I can totally see her hissing about showing up in sweatpants. My mom grew up in the south and had a similar disposition.

I think I’m giving age the middle finger too – especially if you consider how much I’m out at the bar. But ssshhhh – don’t tell anyone. But drinking like a college student makes me feel like maybe I’m still there. I do have to go home to reality but thankfully the kids are in bed by then. ;-)


BigLittleWolf April 26, 2012 at 11:41 am

I’m liking your sassy Mama more and more… and all the other great women in your family as well.


Melissa April 26, 2012 at 1:15 pm

Mama ALWAYS knows best, is what you are telling me here.


Jane April 26, 2012 at 2:26 pm

Now we know where you get your sass AND your good looks! (Hugs to you and your mom! xoxo)


Velva April 26, 2012 at 5:47 pm

You know there is something to be said about just smiling and waving. There is also something very special about your mama too-she is a fighter. Through it all, no matter what the outcome, she will become more a part of you, in a way that is deeper and reflective.

Cheers to you both!


I get the Southern thing. Like you, I would show-up at the grocery store in sweat pants and a head band-forget even the lip gloss. I live in Tallahassee, Florida (New Georgia) and there are lots of folks who would not be caught dead not fully made up.


SuziCate April 26, 2012 at 6:22 pm

Hmmm, I’m calculating how long I have to wait for the smile and wave thing works. I guess I can start practicing and see when I am excused from my ill behavior. My own mother has aged quite gracefully with the single exception of saying things she’d never have said in a million years twenty years ago; maybe age does have its rewards!


Kate April 26, 2012 at 7:16 pm

Your Mama is splendid. Yes, beautiful (those creams work or were unnecessary), but better, a gorgeous character.

I’ve known some grand old ladies. When we get there, let’s just smile and wave (our middle finger), just smile and wave.


Heather April 26, 2012 at 7:38 pm

I too am from a Southern mama. She wears panty hose with everything, even jeans. Something about those Southern women!
Your mama is beautiful. You look so much like her!


TKW April 27, 2012 at 8:40 am


I will take that as a high compliment. Thank you.


Pamela April 26, 2012 at 8:36 pm

Oh I laughed so hard! Thank you!! Honestly you can capture an entire personality in a sentence. Ageing is so hard – last week I found a hair growing out of my chin – but in a few years we’ll look back an think how young we were.


TKW April 27, 2012 at 8:41 am


I have that same chin hair. Another gift that turning 40 gave me. Ugh!


gew April 26, 2012 at 9:42 pm

I am also from a Southern Mama. Totally Southern on both sides. And yet I am the kind of person who will go to the store in sweatpants and mismatched socks.


Katybeth April 26, 2012 at 9:50 pm

Your mother is beautiful. I had to laugh because she sound very much like my mother who would not be caught dead in pj bottoms or without lip stick after being up for more than an hour. Promise your mom as soon as she gets done with chemo you will spend hours with her at Sephora….. it will give you both something to look forward too but be sure you put on a little lipstick before you pick her up!
Big smile and wave…..


liz April 27, 2012 at 2:01 am

Smile and wave….
Put a little lip-gloss on…
Good advice.
Love both these ladies of yours…


idiosyncratic eye April 27, 2012 at 3:44 am

Smile and wave is always the best philosophy! I hope chemo’s going well your mum. :)


Tiffany April 28, 2012 at 7:59 am

I love your Mama. That is a gorgeous picture too!!!


Melissa April 28, 2012 at 7:55 pm

Yes! When I worked in the hospital I loved patients like your mom. My grandmother also became very blunt in her age and I found her behavior refreshing in our modern society where everyone is putting on apperances.


Jen @ Momalom April 29, 2012 at 6:06 am

Stunning, dear friend. And brave. Like you. (Even without lip gloss.)


Jade @ Tasting Grace April 29, 2012 at 10:18 am

Awesome. This post literally made me laugh out loud. And yeah, honest and frank people are the best! I always find myself admiring people who call it like they see it. Makes me wonder why it’s so hard for the rest of us. Thanks for this great post!


Sarah April 29, 2012 at 4:56 pm

I used to say Pfft! to those who could “smile and wave” their way through life. Now I finally see that it’s not always a compromise, that they have gained far more than I have in many ways. But, even after infusing this little tactic into my personality, I still hold tight to the part that is honest and blunt. I think I’m just in the process of learning when to use it.



Rudri Bhatt Patel @ Being Rudri April 30, 2012 at 7:25 pm

Oh Mama. I love her grace. Even during chemo.
Much love you Kitch and of course, dear Mama.


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