English: White Water Rafting close to Jaco Bea...

White Water Rafting close to Jaco Beach Costa Rica. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My Mom got serious about being adventurous when she turned 70. A friend, who could not use a ticket to go parasailing off a beach in Mexico, offered Mom the ticket. She took it. There was a ticket for Dad, too, but he declined. Mom mocked him, “They don’t kill tourists.” And, we have a photo of her, carefree, floating through the clear blue sky over the water off Mexico.

Dad, telling on himself, shamefacedly told friends back home about the adventure, and never let Mom go off on adventures alone again. She went for a glider ride. They went white-water rafting on the Colorado River. In each photo we have of these events, she grins at the camera at the sheer joy of the moment.

I cherish this role model. Dad died of a hemorrhagic stroke two years after the parasailing trip. Mom survived him by 13 years. I’ve often wondered if her late-life adventuring kept her healthy. Dad, by contrast, had said, shortly after retiring, “You can’t golf every day.”

For her 80th birthday, Mom declined my offer to help her plan a big party. “I don’t want a party,” she told me. “Well, I’m going to throw you a party,” I told her. “ You are invited to come.”

Within weeks, she had taken over the planning. She rented the party room at a local hotel near her home in Atlanta, Georgia, which did the catering. She decorated each table with photos of her throughout her life, attached to helium balloon centerpieces. Friends and family came to the Atlanta hotel from Texas, California, Oklahoma and Virginia. I wore her mother’s wedding dress for the event. I had found it in my grandmother’s cedar chest, which Mom had given me a few years before. “What’s in the chest?” I asked her. “I don’t know,” she said. “I’ve never opened it.”

Besides my grandmother’s wedding dress, the cedar chest contained my grandmother’s and great-grandmother’s wedding rings, letters between 1898 and 1927 from my great-grandmother to my grandmother, which I am now transcribing, which include the time period when my mother was born and my grandfather died. The chest had a poster annotated by my grandfather, a border agent in Nogales, Arizona, where my mother was born, celebrating Mexico’s Independence Day. I gave the poster to my nephew, now a border agent in California.

For my part, as I anticipate a trip to Cuba to celebrate my 70th, I didn’t wait for adventures. Getting a pilot’s license in Argentina in my 20s, traveling to speak in China and Nepal in my 30s, ziplining in Costa Rica at 63. Roller-blading with my granddaughter at 65. Swimming under waterfalls in Hawaii at 69, by then a 3-year breast cancer survivor and newly diagnosed Parkinson’s patient.

Thanks for the inspiration, Mom.

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