My mother carried a secret to her grave. In fact, her gravestone is her last laugh.
Years ago, when she was in her twenties, she decided that absolutely no one would ever know her true age. Not even her new husband. Vanity? Maybe. Becoming a nurse in later years when she should be retiring? Perhaps. Wanting the doctors–and others–not to treat her as an old woman when she was past her seventies? Most probably. Whatever her reasoning, her birth year was always an enigma, even to us, her surviving four daughters. We had our suspicions from stories she told. And of course she had conveniently misplaced her birth certificate. When she applied for her driver’s license (in the years before intense scrutiny) she made up a year. And the admissions office at the hospital had three different birth years in their computers. “Pick one,” she’d say to the staff when she was to have surgery.
Through the years, she defied the calendar. Her hair was chin length and medium blonde. She only occasionally wore glasses. Her everyday outfits were skirts and pumps and pressed blouses. Her jewelry was simple yet elegant. She walked with her head held high.
Finally, when her time on earth was completed, we knew exactly what our mother would want. Under our mother’s name at her gravesite is a birth year we chose at random. She had the last laugh, just as she’d want it.