Denise Etheridge Column Teaser

There’s been a lot of talk about milestone birthdays around the office this week.

One colleague will celebrate — or try to forget — his big 3-0 that will come next year. Another co-worker is a month from reaching the top of the hill with his 40th birthday.

I’m already way beyond that and thankful for every day I wake to another sunrise. I also get to share my birthday being an identical twin. I never had to find a best friend because I was given one in the womb.

My twin sister and I converse daily about the little things as well as sharing major news. Aging gracefully and living gratefully have been recent topics Danielle and I have discussed lately.

I miss my sister, who lives in Sacramento, California, and our older brother who lives in Grants Pass, Oregon. My siblings and I, our children and young grandkids were supposed to have had a family reunion in the summer of 2020 — when Danielle and I were to celebrate a milestone birthday. It didn’t happen due to COVID-19.

As disappointing as it was, there’s always later this year or next year. I hope. We didn’t lose any family members this past year and we are thankful for it.

Danielle and I have been remembering our late mother a lot lately. Sylvia Herman Schneider Grossman could sometimes be difficult. But she was always fierce, loving and unique.

Mom passed away five years ago at the age of 83. She was a force of nature. Mom was tiny as a bird measuring less than 5 feet tall, frail in body but with a strong spirit and a determination to live life to the fullest. She didn’t like to be told what to do. Mom was the one who liked giving orders. And she could cuss like a sailor — or like a newspaperman or woman on deadline day when the computers go down.

The day she passed, her body simply gave out.

Mom even went to her “gym” the morning she died. She would exercise daily with other seniors who struggled with COPD. Mom went home after the gym to change before meeting her “Golden Girls” group to play mahjong. When she didn’t show at the senior center, her friends called my sister, who had a key to Mom’s house. I got the news that afternoon and was on a plane within 24 hours.

When Danielle and I were in our teens, our 20s, even our 30s, we would roll our eyes and tell each other, “I’ll never be like Mom.”

Her character flaws seemed more pronounced to us then, and her eccentricities would embarrass us. Mom had a sharp wit, but you didn’t want to be on the receiving end when she was angry or being critical.

Then, my sister and I got older. We raised our families, earned more life experiences by surviving bad times and sharing good times, and came to better understand the petite dynamo that was our mother.

Mom was a feminist without the label. She set an example for her daughters to follow. She didn’t go to college but made sure her kids did. Most women of her generation were expected to be homemakers and nothing more. Well, Mom was that and much more.

Mom had a head for business. She was the most organized person I have ever met. Mom helped my father run a restaurant in Charleston, South Carolina, several generations ago. When we moved to Atlanta, Mom took a job as a sales associate in a ladies department store. She quickly became a top selling associate and was promoted to manager.

Years later, when she and my father had moved to Phoenix, they owned and operated an Italian deli. Mom made pizelles and cannoli. She had learned to cook from her Italian neighbors in west New York as a young bride back in the 1950s.

After my dad passed and mom retired her life became even busier. She eventually remarried a nice man who took her on cruises and other international travel adventures. Mom journeyed to places she’d dreamt of exploring as a poor girl in small town Connecticut.

Her curiosity never dimmed. Mom read voraciously, and imparted her love of literature and learning to us. I think that’s pretty good for a woman who earned no more than a high school diploma. (We also suspected she’d had a learning disability that was never diagnosed.)

So Danielle and I have decided we’d like to emulate our mother’s best qualities: her strength and determination, her assertiveness, her sense of humor, her passion for knowledge and her devotion to family.

Finally Danielle and I are at the age where we DO want to “be like Mom.”

Denise Etheridge is a staff writer for The

Walton Tribune. Her email address is denise.etheridge@waltontribune.com

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