Special Birthday report from just outside Joshua Tree National Park, California: Happy Birthday to my mother, Marcella Hankins. My mother solves problems in the night. We can be puzzling over a quilt pattern or how to build a new wall for my laundry room and, in the morning, she has the answer. She remembers all kinds of names of people and places. Her brain is buzzing all of the time with encyclopedic knowledge of everything from where I accidentally hid my rotary cutter from myself 400 miles away in Nashville to complex multi-step stain removal.
When I was working on my novel a few weeks ago, I was speaking to her about my characters' nicknames and she came up with perfect Christian names for them and a couple of plot points as well. She did that in the middle of talking about the next animated movie that was coming out that she wanted to see with my Dad and talking about my dress for the Big Picnic Band Concert.
We sometimes call my mom, Martha Junior, because she knows as much about crafts and decorating as Martha Stewart, but she's way funnier. My mom laughs and laughs just like her mom. The biggest bone in her body is her funny bone.
When I was a kid, my mom could make a coloring book page into a true work of art. She was the master of the coloring book in our house. She brought the scarecrow and Dorothy to life --even coloring Toto seven different colors of brown, black, and grey until he was ready to sit down on the page and bark.
My mom can pack a suitcase better than a salesman who flies five days a week. It's down to my mom's training that I was able to fly a hand crank sewing machine home from England and make the flight attendants reminisce about their mums sewing clothes for them when they were toddlers rather than fretting over my baggage weight. My mother has never surrendered a souvenir of foreign or domestic travel at the hands of a ticketing agent and I am determined to follow in her footsteps.
People ask me how I learned to tell stories and I can only explain that I come from a colorful family which makes for an endless supply of material, but that I also have a mother who read to me, who taught reading to other children, and who treasures books, especially children's books, like other people treasure gold or fresh air.
My mom is a quilter, a newspaper publisher, a photographer, a comedian, a master of pies, a vanquisher of stains, a house painter, a gardener, a movie nut, and, with my sister, my best girl friend. She has been cracking me up for a long time now and I expect there are many more hijinks, quilts, and pies up her sleeve.
To Marcella Hankins, Happy Birthday, long may you laugh. I love you, Mom.
Photo of Mom and me having a deep consultation about millinery at Davidson College.