To Nan, Happy Birthday

Patrick Butler
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It’s a beautiful day in the life when you get to celebrate your Nan’s 89th birthday with her. I mean, you don’t turn 89 every day.

We always go out for Chinese food as a family for Nan’s birthday — a tradition I certainly don’t mind, but don’t quite understand. For this year’s instalment of the big day, 13 of us (just the immediate family not out of province) squat around one of those big round tables at the Magic Wok spooning up soo guy and tearing into chicken balls.

Nan was triumphant through it all, eying three generations of her family, her Butlers, as they caught up over egg rolls and pushed dish after dish around the lazy Susan.

Family is central to Nan’s life, and as the matriarch of the Butler clan (and quite a large one it is, too), she couldn’t be more central to it. Nan’s been there through it all — concerts, hockey games, tournaments, recitals, graduations, weddings and funerals. But how could we have it any other way?

A family dinner wouldn’t truly be complete without her rushing about to check on the turkey or the vegetables, or standing at the ready to spoon up gravy or to mash potatoes. Nor would any of us derive the same pleasure from devouring the cake, cookies or (best of all) trifle prepared for dessert without her looking on with pride.

Christmas concerts wouldn’t be as cheery without knowing Nan was watching with rapt attention, waiting for my sister and I to appear, nor would the pleasure of performing be the same without Nan clapping loudly after we’d finish a carol or take a bow.

And throughout, she is smiling, and she is proud.

Nan is the figure to which all children of big families eventually aspire. At 89, she is a woman universally loved, who is all knowing and all-powerful — at once sage, animated and radiant.

And despite (or perhaps in spite) of her age, she has retained her independence.

Nan stills drives and still lives by herself on Bell Island. She seems to be on a constant circuit across the Tickle and back again, going from house to house to stay with relatives and visit friends. Her social calendar, I’d be willing to bet, is busier than ever between all the card games, dinners, dances and whatever other engagements she squeezes in.

If there’s a secret to vitality, she’s unlocked it.

And while we all hope it’s genetics (my, wouldn’t that be nice!), I suspect the secret to the good health and the energy she continues to enjoy has more to do with who Nan is than what she’s made of.

Even though she may be going on 90, it’s obvious Nan has no intentions of slowing down. It just isn’t in her character.

As the most active social networker I know (we’re talking real, old school social networking, not Facebook or Twitter), Nan always has a story to tell, a meal to host or a visit to pay, so that without fail, she’s always on the move — or at least she’s always on the phone.

But that just may be her secret.

She may be an octogenarian, but Nan never gives the impression that she’s writing the final chapter. No matter what, she remains heavily involved in the lives of others, and at a time when becoming preoccupied with oneself would be wholly acceptable.

With no plans to let her age get the better of her, she leads a healthy, active life — one full of family, friends and a scattered game of Auction.

Here’s hoping I take after her.

Happy Birthday, Nan. And many more.

Patrick Butler plans to begin the journalism program at Carleton University in Ontario in the fall. He lives in Conception Bay South, and can be reached by email


Organizations: Carleton University

Geographic location: Bell Island, Ontario, Conception Bay South

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