Tomorrow is my Oma's birthday. She'll be 92. Since her 90th birthday, she has answered the question How are you today? with, "Well, I'm ninety."
Don't get me wrong, my Oma is not some crochety old lady who complains to anyone who will listen about every ache and pain that her rheumatism brings on her. My Oma is awesome. She's kind of my hero, really. She doesn't talk about her life much, but the stories I know, I will never forget. Stories from Indonesia when my mom was a baby and massive snakes would curl up onto their porch, between Oma and mom's cradle, and how Oma got a passing soldier to shoot the snake for her. Or how, when she moved to Holland with her Dutch solider husband, and he then left her, she did everything to provide for her two children, and held her head high, despite the stigma that came with being divorced in that time.
One of my favourite stories from Oma is about a party she had after her husband left. At the time, a good hostess had her home well stocked with not only every guest's drink of choice, but also their brand of cigarette. Oma was far too poor to provide anything like that, but went around doing favours for people for weeks before the party, in exchange for a bottle of this or a half-pack of that, until she had just enough of what everyone would want. It's not exciting or glamorous, I know. But I think of how industrious and determined she was, and what a sparkling party she must have thrown.
She remarried eventually and moved to Canada. It wasn't the second chance she was dreaming of; it wasn't even close. But Oma worked hard and she survived. And now she's 92, and living in a little apartment with a glorious garden. She's survived cancer more times than I can imagine, and many things far worse. She's tired now, and it's hard for her to walk, but every once in a while, there is still a little sparkle in her eye that tells me that amazing, courageous, strong, beautiful woman is still there.
Thursdays are our day. I visit her and help her with little tasks that are becoming too much for her with time. I weed the garden, I change lightbulbs, I make coffee. Sometimes we talk, sometimes we work on one of her puzzles. Sometimes we go out for lunch - fish and chips - Oma loves fish and chips, and she's pleased that after years of turning my nose up, I've finally acquired the taste too. This year it happens that her birthday falls on a Thursday, so in addition to the family festivities this past weekend (with her two children, six grandchildren and seven great-grandsons) I get to actually spend her birthday with her.
We have a ritual for Thursdays that has evolved over the years - it used to be that I always brought coffee and donuts from Tim Horton's. Oma loves her honey crullers and Roll Up the Rim. But at some point, she decided it was unfair that I always had to bring the food, and she announced we would take turns - one week I could bring food and coffee, the next week she would make coffee and supply treats. (More than once, she has confided to me that she had to go borrow gebakjes or stroopwaffels from a neighbour because she had nothing in the cupboard, but knew it was her turn.) This week is not my turn, and I'm sure there will be leftover birthday cake from Sunday's family gathering, or from her weekly Wednesday coffee club in the rec room of her building, but I want to bring something anyway. Oma is the only grandparent I've ever known, and I'm aware that I can't count on indefinite birthdays to celebrate with her. Every one is special, and deserves more than leftover cake.
Happy birthday Oma. I love you.
Recipe borrowed from Helene at Tartelette - I won't retype her instructions, as I followed them quite precisely. I omitted the cheesecake ice cream, as Oma does not care for either cheesecake or ice cream, and it would be difficult to transport in this weather anyway, but I will try it on some other occasion, as it sounds lovely!