"Mommy," we asked, "how old are you?"
She smiled her mysterious smile and then responded simply, "Over 21."
When March 14 rolled around that year, we gave her the gifts that Daddy had helped us buy for her. As we enjoyed birthday cake and ice cream, we looked at her with the earnestness of seven and nine-year-old daughters. "Mommy," we asked, "are you over 22 now?"
Mom continued keeping her age a secret from us, which bothered me because so many of our friends knew the ages of their parents. When I would point that fact out to her, however, she'd firmly retort, "A true lady never reveals her age."
I guess we shouldn't have opened her wallet that day, but at nine and eleven my sister and I saw our opportunity to discover Mom's age. We slipped out her driver's license (just for a moment, you understand) and located her date of birth. Hastily, we restored the document as we did the calculations. If I hadn't shared our discovery with a teacher who subsequently congratulated her on how young she looked for her age, she never would have known what we did.
After that incident, I carefully avoided answering my friends who, for whatever reasons, considered themselves entitled to know Mom's age. Even though, in an unladylike manner, I freely revealed my age, I'd learned to respect her privacy. Sometimes, even well into my own forties, I'd respond to inquisitive friends by saying she was "over 21."
You can imagine my shock, therefore, when my ladylike mother began telling people that she'd reached her 80's! Once I managed to scrape my jaw off the floor, I asked her why she suddenly disclosed her age so willingly. She replied, "Once you reach this age, honey, it's something to be proud of!"
When she went on Hospice last May, she had my sister take a picture of her holding the flowers we'd sent her for Mother's Day.
Today would have been Mom's 99th birthday, and she probably would have admitted it quite proudly. She knew she looked considerably younger, and she enjoyed watching people react in astonishment when they saw her date of birth. Then again, being a bit of a prankster, she may well have (with a mischievous twinkle in her eye) simply told people that she was over 21...again.