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October 3, 1996

Most of us know that when we get married, we also acquire a whole new family from the spouse's side. Very often, that's an unknown quantity at the outset, but, happily, in my case it turned out to be a bonus. New uncles, aunts, cousins, even a gentle couple that I still have trouble thinking of as in-laws. They quickly folded me into their household and made me feel welcome. To their grandkids and most of the rest of us, they were "Mimi and Pa-Pa," and those names stuck. Pa-Pa died a few years ago, but Mimi is about to celebrate a significant milestone, her one hundredth birthday, and I think she's embarrassed about all the fuss being made over her.

The matriarch of the new family that I acquired more than four decades ago has spent virtually her entire life taking care of other people, in sickness or any other kind of distress, and it's a bit of a role reversal for her to be on the receiving end now. She has been through a lot of good times and bad, but the years have been kind to her. I'd say she's pretty spry for a centenarian, though a little unsteady on her feet at times. She has a walker and a cane stuck off in a corner somewhere but she shuns their use because they are for "older folks."

Until very recently, she lived alone in her neat brick home in Oklahoma City and fared very well. Her son, a brother and two granddaughters all live in the city, and along with several caring neighbors, they kept a watchful eye on her. For a while now, she's been a guest in our house here in Perry, and the main complaint she has is that we don't give her enough work to do. She's still planning for that day when she can go back to her own house on Lancaster Lane.

Mimi's given name is Atra, and she had that long before the Gillette Co. started making a razor with the same name. She comes from the family of Mose Allen Collins and his wife, Laura, a sturdy pair of Georgia folks who settled down along the Red River in Oklahoma earlier in this century. Mimi had three brothers and a sister, and all but one of them are enjoying long lives. Uncle Grady died back in the '50s, but Aunt Mont lived to be 90; Uncle John R. is in his mid-90s; and Uncle R.C., the baby of the family, is hale and hearty and past the age of 80. Good genes.

Clean living must have something to do with it, too, for they are all faithful, devout and hard-working members of churches in communities where they live. Since the loss of her beloved Charlie (Pa-Pa) a few years ago, Mimi has pretty well focused her entire life on serving her church and doting on her son, daughter, brothers, grandchildren and great-grandkids, along with the assortment of families acquired by her son and two daughters through their marriages. A vivacious daughter, Charlene, died a few years ago. That hurt, of course. Charlene was a young woman at the time.

So, next Saturday afternoon we'll be heading down I-35 for Oklahoma City to spend a couple of hours at the Baptist Temple church where a few friends and relatives will gather for cake and punch and well wishes for Mimi on her hundredth birthday. She'll read messages of congratulations from some pretty important people, some friends, family and a few contemporaries, chat a bit with guests who drop by, and then she will probably mosey out to the kitchen to help with the dishes.

You can be sure she won't be using a cane or a walker, even though she'll be somewhat tired. Our Mimi is one tough gal. Happy birthday, pretty lady. Charlene would say, “you're a honey!" The rest of us think so, too.