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October 1, 1999

Most of us regard birthdays as a time of celebration or perhaps a grim reminder that time marches relentlessly onward. I guess that after enough of them, we'd just as soon let them slide by. One member of our family has enjoyed quite a few birthdays but we're not about to let this next one go completely unnoticed. It is truly a landmark. Laura's mom will be 103 years old in a day or so and that's certainly a very large deal.

Atra Collins Thomas is a Georgia girl and proud of it. Her parents came to this part of the country by way of Texas and eventually settled in the Red River area on a farm that is now flooded by Lake Texoma. She remembers growing up in a household that was dominated benignly but firmly by her father, Mose Allen Collins. Mother Collins ran the kitchen and provided instructions and guidance where needed. As a school girl Atra understood that her duties included rising each morning before dawn and placing a plate full of hot biscuits, which she made from scratch, on the breakfast table by the time Father came in from his early chores in the barnyard. Those were days long before canned biscuits were invented. She still has a weakness for biscuits and gravy as a special treat.

Mose Allen's first wife died at a fairly young age after they had started a family. In due time he married again, this time choosing a winsome lass named Laura Burton, and they began the process of starting a family all over again. Atra had three brothers, John R., R.C. and Grady, and a sister, Monta. All except Atra are now gone. They were very close to one another and to the children from their father's first marriage. Today there are nieces, nephews, cousins, uncles and aunts, not to mention in-laws, in this family, and many of them have no idea exactly how they're related. Doesn't matter. They all know they belong.

Atra is in good shape for a lady of her age. Until a few years ago she lived alone at her home in Oklahoma City but my Laura convinced her that the time had come for her to come to our house for an extended visit. It was not easy, leaving her many friends and relatives in Oklahoma City, but she recognized the need and soon became fairly comfortable in our house. She misses her church but Laura takes her there for a visit every now and then, and that is therapeutic. It's a time for hugging and an exchange of greetings with some very dear people. Her son, Fred L. Thomas, lives in Oklahoma City but his wife is quite ill and he is her caregiver. A granddaughter also lives there and she is very attentive when family duties and her job do not interfere.

I married into this wonderful family nearly five decades ago, and it has taken me a long while to remember that her given name is Atra. Everyone in the family calls her Mimi, a nickname chosen by her first grandchildren years ago. And she had the name Atra long before the Gillette Razor Co. started using it on some of their products.

Mimi's health is such that she can eat anything she likes, and she has a hearty appetite. You wouldn't think so, judging from her slender, trim frame, but she does enjoy eating. Newspaper body type is too small to bother with, so she reads the headlines and watches "Wheel of Fortune" and "The Price is Right" on TV, along with the news and Angela Lansbury's show, whenever it's on the cable.

The birthday celebration won't be on a large scale, but there will be cake and a few of her Perry friends will stop by. Otherwise, for Mimi, it will be pretty much like any other day. After you've had more than a hundred birthdays, they become pretty routine. But anyway, Happy Birthday, again, Mimi!