She was born in 1914. Before World Wars. Before Great Depressions. When horses and wagons were more prevalent than cars and trucks.
When food came from the garden out back, and eggs were laid by chickens who had names.
I guess I first met her about 70 years later at a football game, notable because it was where she learned to do The Wave. Which she did with elegance, grace and her own sense of rhythm.
And today, I helped celebrate her birthday.
Because Julia Munroe Woodward has lived for 95 years.
Nearly 80 people gathered to honor her at a party in her childhood home — all descendants, or, like me, folks who married in (and even a few of us who married in, got unmarried, but stayed in). In the southern tradition, she’s called Miss Julia, or Mama, or Grandmama, or Gigi. That last being the pet name used by the great-grandchildren.
All 35 of ’em.
You see, her six children had children who had children, so it was quite a crowd. To tell the truth, Miss Julia loves a happy crowd and a fun party.
Me, too. And I especially loved this party. Because here… I saw the echo of Miss Julia’s cheekbones in this granddaughter. A fleeting glimpse of her eyes in that great-grandson. Her no-nonsense style in that one. Her love of music in the other. Kindness and laughter abounded. All a testimony to her and how she has lived.
Perhaps it’s true that there is a part of us that never dies, never ceases. Not only are our physical characteristics echoed in our children, but our ideas and values go on, too.
From Miss Julia I have learned the value of speaking one’s mind. I’ve learned that an open heart is a healthy heart. I’ve learned that if you can give, you should give. I’ve learned that love depends so much less on rules and much, much more on experience.
I will never forget watching her and her two sisters bury their younger brother, Dick, and the kindness and compassion they showed to his long-time partner, Luis. The epitaph they chose for their theatre-loving brother came from that southern master Tennessee Williams: “Nothing human disgusts me, unless it is unkind or violent.” Perfect for Dick. Perfect for his sisters.
Perfect for me.
And for my kids.
Over the years Miss Julia has certainly slowed down. At 95, I’m not going to begrudge her that — her slowing down just gives the rest of us a chance to catch up! But I also know that despite her physical limitations, she’s still learning something new everyday. She’s still vibrant and curious.
And, she’s still someone who will do The Wave. Just ask her.