Sunday, May 11, 2014

Pep Talk: "Stay You"

Still sharp as a tack at almost 80 years of age. That’s my mom.

Feisty would be a good word to describe Patsy Sue Perry. According to, the word means a few things: Spirited, ill-tempered and pugnacious. The mom of four, like most of us, can be all three, collectively, and individually at various times.

Independent would be another accurate word to describe a woman who has had her fair share of misfortune. I can’t imagine growing up not feeling valued. She did. Her parents divorced when she was quite young and neither seemed to have much time for the love, nurturing and attention children need and deserve. Unfortunate.

Motherhood came early for a young girl growing up in Saint Joseph, Missouri. She was still a teenager when my older brother came along. Shortly thereafter, my older sister arrived, and then yours truly. Bringing me into the world apparently was not an easy task. Doctors ordered her to remain in bed for the latter stages of my genesis.

Not an easy task with two other children under the age of four running around the house. One more child, my younger brother, came along five years after me to complete the foursome of kids who today proclaim, “Happy Mother’s Day” to Patsy Sue.

The ardent follower of politics and news lives in a retirement community these days. She’s not real happy about it. It’s fresh, less than a year. Feisty and independent folks want life on their terms. Understandable, for sure.

It’s one of the great challenges facing America today. How do we effectively care for an aging population?

I saw a fascinating story on CBS’ 60 Minutes recently. A ongoing study of folks in their nineties who live at a retirement community outside Irvine, California. A lot of well-respected beliefs being challenged with compelling data: All those vitamins consumed by Americans in the belief they help us? Probably not. High blood pressure? Actually, as we age, it might help, not hinder, our well-being. Gain a little weight as we progress? Not such a bad thing. Alcohol of any kind, in moderation, seems to be good for us too.

Some well-known facts held up under this ongoing research. Exercise, socialization and the avoidance of injury are critical for America’s senior citizen’s ability to matriculate through the golden years with a decent level of enjoyment, satisfaction and well being.

It was the socialization piece that played a huge role in four kids encouraging their mother to depart a small, isolate rented home and seek new adventure in a ten-story building full of other chronologically-advanced men and women. Some need lots of care. Some, like my mom, need lots of opportunities to socialize, exercise and bloom.

Change is hard for all of us. I can’t imagine what it must be like for someone on the cusp of earning the “octogenarian” status. “You want me to move, where?” But she’s making new friends at the place she calls, “The Cracker Factory.” Through the years, Patsy Sue has lost many things. Her sarcastic wit is not one of them.

Caring for aging parents. My, how time seems to fly. I can remember vividly all the years of mom driving me to youth baseball, football and basketball practices. Nobody had a cleaner or more crisply ironed uniform than a young southpaw who dreamed of playing professional sports of any kind. My mother fostered those dreams. I think she grieves most for the accidental poke in the eye that led to a crash to the floor and all kinds of head and upper-torso injuries that snuffed a promising athletic career in my senior year in high school.

Reflecting back many years later, as the father of two kids now 24 and 17, I can see how this might be a struggle for her. We always want our children to dream big, to go farther than the horizon of our respective lives.

Mother’s Day, 2014. A time of transition for Patsy Sue. As she awakens on this day in Kansas City, Kansas on the tenth floor of her high-rise community, I pray she looks to the horizon, beyond the golf course that occupies her southern and western views and sees a future of opportunity and adventure.

Her mind is still razor sharp. So too, at times, her fury about the injustices, real and perceived, that accumulate after almost eight decades on this roller coaster called life. Her body, a tad rickety. Her spirit? Like the weather, susceptible to change at any time.

She gave me life 56 years ago. We share many traits, including a love for healthy debate. I still chuckle in remembrance of the days she would call the Denver radio sports talk show I used to co-host with my buddy Eric Goodman. Mom would vigorously challenge the Chicago native’s point of view. He shouldn’t feel bad; mom challenges a lot of points of view.

One thing is indisputable. “Born the same day (June 28) as John Elway!” she loves to proclaim. It’s the truth. The Hall of Fame quarterback and Patsy Sue share the same birthday. “It’s what makes me the athlete that I was!” mom reminded me, when I referenced her connection to the Broncos’ icon, on a recent phone call. Mom was offering thanks for the flowers sent her way for the big day.

She had just returned from an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Her voice exuded peace and contentment. “Meetings are my life line,” she offered. “They give me hope.”

Ma, happy Mother’s Day. Stay feisty. Stay active. Stay sober. Make the meetings. Stay you.

To all the moms out there, happy Mother’s Day to you too!

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