Miss Beula May Buford, of the Charleston Bufords, had been looking forward to this day for several months. It was her birthday, her 97th birthday, and she eagerly anticipated the arrival of four generations of Bufords who would gather around her in the day room of the Shady Grove Nursing Home. It was a family tradition for the entire Buford clan to come together and celebrate their matriarch’s birthday.
Although Miss Buford did not approve of everyone who had married into the Buford clan, she would never dream of letting the lamentable choices of some of her many descendants put a damper on her day. Not if she could enjoy the new babies and gush over how much the toddlers had grown. The children all called her grandma, a title Miss Buford thought far superior to that of mother, now that she was no longer responsible for the hard work of raising children.
So far, she had endured the indignity of having one of the nurses bathe her and help her into the white dress she wore just once a year on her birthday. How did I lose so much weight? Miss Buford thought when she realized that the dress sorely needed to be taken in a size or two. I really must eat more than one piece of the cake, even if it means I’ll pay for it later. No bout of bellyache was going to keep the old woman from enjoying her special day.
Miss Buford didn’t move a muscle as she patiently waited for her beautician to finish brushing her wig and apply her make up. Although the young woman used altogether too much powder on her sunken cheeks, the Buford matriarch wasn’t about to complain. Sadly, the increasingly annoying tremors of her age-spotted hands had made “putting on her Sunday face,” as she liked to call her morning ritual, impossible.
They’ll be here soon, Miss Buford silently thought as the woman put on the finishing touches to her makeup. What’s taking that girl so long? She would have said something to the woman about it, but the young woman wore a pair of earbuds and was listening to music that would surely drown out Miss Buford’s voice that had grown progressively weaker over the preceding months.
The beautician finished and stepped back to admire her handiwork. “There, that’s better,” she observed. “You look good, even if I do say so myself.”
Finally, all of her preparations were completed. Miss Buford was rolled out to the common room where she had nothing to do but wait for the many members of her clan to come and gather around their aged matriarch. And arrive they did. What’s more, several of her oldest and closest friends had also arrived to help her celebrate. Soon, they would step forward, give her their gifts, and help her open them. She would smile, invite the children up so they could wish her happy birthday and kiss her papery cheek.
Someone started playing the organ that sat in a corner by the window, and the first of many stepped forward. “Happy birthday, Grandma Buford,” a woman in her thirties said. I think that must be Ida, my great, great, niece on Herbert’s side, the old woman thought. Or is it Jackson’s wife, Suzanne? There are so many to keep track of, and my memory isn’t what it once was.
Grandma Buford’s cataracts had slowly worsened until everything had taken on a misty gray as though she were in a dense fog. And neither are my eyes, she thought. It’s so hard to see anymore. I wish the woman would come closer.
A young girl of eight or nine stood next to her mother. Ida nodded encouragingly and placed a hand on her daughter’s shoulders. “It’s okay, Mary,” she said.
The young girl hesitated and then reluctantly moved forward. She bent down to kiss her grandmother’s cheek. But at the last second, she pulled back and turned to her mother. “I’m sorry, mom. I can’t. I know it’s a family tradition, but I just can’t. Besides, that’s not Grandma, not really.”
Miss Buford didn’t know what to think. Why, I’m here, child. Right here.
“That’s okay, Mary. You’re right. She’s in a better place now. She’s with the Lord, and he’s taken all of her pain. Her suffering is over and gone forever.”
Miss Buford was positively perplexed, but as she drifted away, she realized the truth. Oh, my… It’s not really my birthday, and I’m not at Shady Grove after all; I’m at a funeral home… I’m coming, Grandpa. I’m finally coming home…