When Mama turned 40, it was a bleak, dark day.
She stayed in bed all day and cried. Sobbed would be more accurate.
She wailed and moaned and took to her bed like some old movie siren, grieving a lost love.
Being an unsympathetic 12-year-old, I tried to comfort her by telling her she was getting closer to drawing her Social Security. This made her wail more.
My grandfather would peek in her room and laugh at her theatrics.
“Jean, do you think you’re even gonna make it?” he asked.
Her response was to roll over and moan, sobs heaving her skinny body.
“Is she going to be OK?” I asked Pop.
He laughed. “I reckon. She’s just being a bit silly.”
“Why is she crying?”
My grandfather shrugged. “Who knows? Forty ain’t that bad. It’s not that good either, but it’s not as bad as your mama is carrying on.”
With that smidge of wisdom, he went back to work.
I agreed with my grandfather; Mama was being silly. She was acting like this one birthday was so horrible, when she should have been demanding we get her a cake, buy her some poof, and celebrate her. Instead, she was acting like it was the end of the world. We didn’t understand her histrionics.
But you know who understood?
I was shocked; I thought for sure if anyone would be having a fit about my Mama’s antics, it would be Granny.
Instead, the old gal seemed to have some empathy for a change.
“Is Mama OK?” I asked her in a whisper.
Granny didn’t answer right away, giving her response the proper weight.
“That depends on what you mean by OK,” she replied.
I was a kid; I had no clue. I just knew my mother, who normally was a willowy redheaded embodiment of kindness and compassion, was having a full-on wailing fest all because she had turned 40 years of age.
Did I need to plan on having my own fit when I turned 40? Was this an expectation of some sort?
In my mind, 40 was old. Ancient even. Of course, I was 12, so even 20 seemed old at the time.
I had no idea what this was all about or what caused it. I just knew Mama was having a royal fit and I was a bit disappointed she was using her day off to do so. I wanted to go to the mall.
“Do you think she will be OK?” I asked again.
Granny let out a long sigh like a pressure cooker releasing steam.
“She will be and she won’t be. She just needs some time. Leave her alone.”
What I didn’t understand then was that sometimes life can suddenly catch up with you.
Doesn’t mean that life is bad or that you’re unhappy. It just means you hit a certain milestone in your life where you are taking inventory of everything.
My own wailing fit may have actually hit a lot sooner than Mama’s.
Turning 29 was a particular tough year for me. I felt like I hadn’t done a lot of the things I should have. I wasn’t sure what some of those things were supposed to be, I just knew I hadn’t done them.
Forty was kind of bad, too, but I didn’t spend the day wailing like Mama did. Mama wails; I tend to wallow.
Thankfully the ladies in the salon where I worked wouldn’t let me wallow for long.
When I told them I was sad that I was turning 40 and didn’t feel like celebrating, one immediately set me straight, telling me the things I had to be thankful for.
“You’ve got a husband and son that both are crazy about you; you work with us, and we love you. You’re going to grad school. Don’t stay so focused on what you haven’t done or what’s missing. Focus on what’s good in this moment.”
Or, as another friend added, “Suck it up, buttercup.”
Hearing that perspective helped me tremendously. I didn’t stop wallowing, but it helped me reframe how I felt.
When I took an inventory, there were some really good things there. It may not have been everything I wanted to have done and accomplished by that age, but there was still some good stuff.
I never knew what prompted Mama to have her day all those decades ago.
She never said, and the next day, she got up and went about her business like she normally did and never mentioned her behavior again.
Of course, Pop and I both never let her live it down, but Mama just brushed it off as it was her party and she could cry if she wanted to.
All Granny said about after it was over was she was jealous my mother had a whole day to just lie around and behave like that.
“I don’t get a whole day to moan and cry in bed,” she said.
“Helen,” my grandfather began. “You book a week in the hospital every summer to rest your nerves. Jean just took a day.”
There’s a few months left until I turn 49 this year.
I feel a day of wallowing coming on already.
Sudie Crouch is an award-winning humor columnist residing in the North Georgia Mountains among the bears, deer, and possibly Sasquatch. You can connect with her on Facebook at Mama Said: A Collection of Wit, Humor, and Deep-Fried Wisdom. Her recently published book, ‘Mama Said: A Collection of Wit, Wisdom, and Deep-Fried Humor’ is available in paperback and Kindle download on Amazon.