By J.S. Porter
When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
– Mary Oliver
Anna (Mahood) Porter, you will be 98-years-old on June 23, 2019.
You love fiercely. You are fiercely loyal. You’re clear-eyed, astute, shrewd, unsentimental, and very enthusiastic. You smile easily. You laugh easily. You endure bouts of pain with great stoicism. You still live in expectancy that today might be grand. One of your grandchildren—Mark, Steven, Daniel or Rachel—may come through the door. A friend—Maureen, Valerie, or Hugh and Irene—may visit. A friend may phone, or one of your great-grandchildren from BC may phone.
What’s your secret?
How have you lived so long with such a strong, clear mind? Do you credit the Irish winds off the north coast, the salt air, the camaraderie of a fishing village – Portavogie—in your childhood? Or, now, perhaps the monthly letters from your niece Ann Tainton in England? Or the regular phone calls from your nephew Paul? There’s always something worth getting up for, some surprise in the day.
Your four younger sisters have now gone and only one remains, the youngest, Pat, along with a younger brother Clifford. You are the eldest in your family. You were sickly as a child. You underwent a radical cancer operation as a middle-aged woman, not expecting to live. You still greet most mornings in a state of joy, except on those mornings when the arthritis is severe in your right shoulder.
You have grit, drive, determination, curiosity, a hunger for learning, playfulness. You listen, you take interest, you encourage – you still have light in your face.
The popular wisdom on longevity usually runs along these lines:
Don’t eat salt.
Don’t move quickly. Move slowly.
Don’t eat sweets.
Drink lots of water
You break the rules; maybe that’s your key:
You eat a keg of salt a day.
You worry about everyone and everything.
You move quickly, even in your walker. You do nothing slowly.
You eat lots of sweets, especially chocolate.
You drink water sparingly.
You have no patience.
So, what’s your secret?
You learned Yeats’ “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” by heart at eight and can to this day recite it with a little prompting. Was the poem your talisman? You always knew in your heart the ones you could return to and get strength from. You always knew there was work to be done in the care of your children and in support of your husband’s ministry. You were, in your own way, as much the ministering one as dad was.
Yours was a beautiful romance. I remember dad in Belfast, still in love, rapid-fire speech, breathless, his mind beginning to go:
Here’s where mom and I had our first date, somewhere here in this square, I can’t remember the street exactly, she was coming in from Bangor on the train and I was waiting for her here, she was sweaty because she was late and she was running, she was beautiful and I was so happy to see her and so afraid that she wouldn’t show up.
You still think more about other people and worry about them more than you think and worry about yourself. You’re always grateful for whatever goodness comes your way. The PSWs who help you get dressed and washed in the mornings and undressed and washed in the evenings also put drops in your eyes and massage your shoulders. You show interest in their lives, you learn their names and histories, how many children they have and where their children go to school.
They call you “mama” because you are a mother-figure to them, a grandmother to them. You listen to their stories. They tell me how much they love you.
You read the paper every day. You keep up with events. I can have a conversation on Canadian politics with you as easily as I can converse with you about the curling (especially Rachel Homan and Jennifer Jones), which you never miss on TV. You read voraciously, especially detective fiction and mysteries.
I’m proud of you – the way you make friends so easily wherever you go, the way you have embodied St. Paul’s words of being content wherever you find yourself. You pray frequently. The Bible, particularly Psalms and the New Testament, are never far from your hands. You never fail to offer encouragement to those around you.
My sister Caroline and I remember the homemade buns and loaves you’d have warm for us when we came home from school, the sweaters you’d knit us, the special cards you’d send us, with an unforgettable sentence you’d always close with: May our thoughts of each other always be happy ones.
My thoughts of you will always be happy ones.
Thank you for your great kindness and encouragement. Thank you for your life of love.