HAPPY 80TH BIRTHDAY, JEFF – Marilyn Armstrong

I married Jeff in 1965. I was 18, he was 26. I was still finishing my B.A. Both Jeff and I needed to get out of our parent’s homes and make a life. It was a  classic “jailbreak” marriage and for a long time, it worked well.

But time marched on and I wanted to move on. He wanted everything to stay the same — and so we parted. I went to Israel and he stayed where he was.

Graphic Jeff, Studio A

When I was sad, Jeffrey used to sing to me. This is the song he sang.

For one birthday, I bought him a wind-up snow globe. It played “You Are My Sunshine” and had a big green frog on a lily pad in the water. When you wound it, it played that song. He kept the globe as long as he lived, which was not nearly long enough.

Happy birthday, Jeff. You would have been 80 years old today and I wish you were alive so I could tease you about your age.

You should still be here.


As we get older, birthdays are less refreshing and less like a hope for the future. So I thought I might offer you a poem slightly more relevant than the usual love poem. Something to which we can both relate.

A little poem for our future. Together.

But on a good day, on a warm, dry day … suddenly, we feel downright peppy and we can move around just like we used to!

Think Arizona! Think summer without humidity! Thing young because you will always be young to me.


I have a wonderful family. Most of them live in Minnesota. Oddly, we don’t talk much. It’s not that we don’t like each other. It’s not that we’re mad at each other. We all get along just fine. We just don’t. Talk.

Maybe it’s because we’re WASPs. (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants) We tend to talk to each other when we need to. Don’t ask me why. I guess it’s a WASP thing. (I’m sure I’ll be getting angry emails from WASPs who do talk all the time. Sorry.) Maybe we forget because life tends to keep us occupied. We do all get together, but very rarely. Usually it’s because someone dies. We all got together for my Uncle’s funeral, my Mom’s funeral, and my Dad’s funeral.

Last weekend Ellin and I flew out to Minnesota for another big get together. The only difference was this time it wasn’t for a funeral. It was for a birthday. My Aunt Helen’s birthday.

My Favorite Aunt
My Favorite Aunt

My Aunt Helen’s 100th birthday! My younger brother Todd from upstate NY came as well as my older brother Roger from Ohio. Helen’s two children were there along with their children and their children’s children. She knew there was going to be a party and that the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren were going to be there.

Four generations

But they didn’t tell her about me and my two brothers. That was the surprise. My Aunt Helen and my parents had this odd thing about surprises. When we were growing up, the only place we ever went to on vacation was out to Minnesota to visit my aunt and my uncle. More often than not, we just showed up unannounced. Surprise! We’re here for a week! Now, my cousins and I have always thought this to be really strange. If you show up unannounced most people will not only be surprised, but also more than a little annoyed.

But not my parents or my aunt and uncle. They loved it. It was their thing. So that’s what we did. And she loved it.  The look on her face when her three nephews walked out to say happy birthday was worth the trip.


She’s gotten pretty frail and her voice is very soft and sometimes the words she wants to say have a hard time coming out. After getting over the shock of seeing us the first thing she said was. “I never thought I’d see the kids again”.

The Kids
The Kids

The kids are 62, 64, 65, 69 and 74. The next day there was an official party for her at the home where she lives. All sorts of friends showed up as well as four generations of family.

All the kids
All the kids

The secret to her longevity? I don’t know. She’s a tough old bird. Maybe it’s because her granddaughter Erica told her years ago when she was a child “Grandma, you have to live to be 100”.

You did it Grandma
You did it Grandma

Maybe it’s because she has at least one beer every day.


Maybe it’s because she always said it was her goal to make it to 100. When we reminded her of that she said. “I guess I have to come up with another goal. Do you think 105 is unreasonable?”

Hell no Aunt Helen. It’s not unreasonable at all.

See Ellin’s view of this celebration: IT REALLY DOES TAKE A VILLAGE BY ELLIN CURLEY


I’m sorry you’re not feeling better to celebrate. It’s raining and cold and you’ve got to spend half the day at the doctor. I wish I could make you feel better and convince the sun to shine for you. You deserve it!

happy birthday from google

You look great. That’s definitely worth something, right? And we have birthday cupcakes to eat this evening when we get home. And home-made chicken pies and a couple of presents to open … the ones I haven’t already given you. I’m so bad about giving presents. I’m a little kid who just can’t wait!

I bet you’ll be feeling better by the weekend and the sun will be shining. Big hugs and lots of love!





It has come around again. My mother’s birthday. She would have been 105 today, which reminds me that she died so long ago … more than 30 years, now. This melody, A Mother’s Waltz, is dedicated to mothers and seems a fitting reminder of mine.

It echoes in my mind, as if I remember hearing my mother hum it a long time ago … but of course, it is new from swo8 Blues JazzBut it’s that kind of melody. It resonates.

The pictures of my family include my mother, me, much younger and my son as a toddler. Pictures of Garry’s family include his mother and father’s wedding, Garry’s dad back from WWII with little Garry on his knee. Garry’s mom as a young woman.

The pictures are family heirlooms that evoke strong and sometimes conflicted feelings.

Music by swo8 with pictures from Leslie Martel (swo8) and Marilyn Armstrong. Memories in music for all mothers everywhere.

FROM swo8 (Leslie Martel): This is Marilyn and my second collaboration. We’ve created a montage photographic memories — families together. It includes eight generations of my family and three of Marilyn and Garry Armstrong’s families.

The song is bittersweet because to be a mother, is indeed bittersweet. Our children bring us our greatest joys and our greatest sorrows. The first couple in the video are my great-grandparents. My great-grandmother died in childbirth leaving 3 babies and a husband.

When my great-grandfather remarried the children were sent off to their aunt to be raised. The aunt is the lady sitting by the fire-place. The first photo of children is of my grandmother and her twin sisters. My grandmother being the oldest would have missed her mother the most. In spite of her early losses she became an extraordinary person and had a huge influence on me and my thinking.

To be a mother has got to be one of the most difficult endeavours to under take in one’s life. We are given this helpless creature for a short period of time to nourish, educate and inspire before they disappear into the ether of adulthood.

“Mother’s Waltz,” music by swo8 Blues Jazz and photography by Marilyn Armstrong and Leslie Martel. 

For more about my mom:



Prompts for the Promptless: Remembering Mom