The catcher squatted down and offered the mitt as a perfect target. I wound up and threw the ball, probably aiming it more than throwing it. The catcher walked up and asked me if that was as hard as I could throw it. I knew it was not my best effort and the next pitch I turned it loose with everything I had. The catcher stood up, smiled, and threw the ball back to me. “That’s better” the catcher said. I will never forget the catcher’s name. Jobie Ponder. She is my mother.
It was not the first time she challenged me to do better. She was a tomboy that could swing a golf club or a tennis racket with equal skill. She worked hard, played hard and loved life. She still does. She has always been a Type “A” personality that lives life on her own terms.
Jobie, as her friends have always called her, could shoot a shotgun, skin a catfish, and cook a great meal. She was not just a good parent; she was a good friend. Not just to her children, though that is its own achievement. She cultivated friendships throughout her life and kept them no matter where her life took her.
When I think about the impact my mother had on my life, it is hard to narrow it down. She challenged me to be the best that I could be. That is not just a feel-good phrase. She pushed me to do my best in school, to develop friendships, to experience life even as a kid.
She and my father embraced retirement as something to experience, not just a time to sit back and relax. “Do it while you can”, she told me when I retired. My wife and I are following that advice, following my parents’ path. What a good example they have been to us on our own journey.
Jobie rode a jet ski at full speed at the age of 88. She spent 14 weeks at Compass Lake during the first Summer of the pandemic, swimming three times a day. She did walking marathons around the world after my father passed away. You mourn your loss, but you embrace your life was her motto.
My mother decided several years ago that it was time for her to move into an independent living facility. She did not ask what I thought but rather visited various facilities in Atlanta near my sister. What a gift that sort of independence is to your children. Speaking of gifts, her gift to her children on her 90th birthday is giving up driving in Atlanta.
My mother’s favorite place in the world is Compass Lake, Florida. I understand that completely. We both grew up there, swimming, skiing, fishing, and spending time with family. I sat on the front porch with my great-grandparents. She now sits on the dock with her great-grandchildren.
This coming weekend, Jobie’s family will gather to celebrate her long life, but more importantly her impact on our own lives. For four days we will gather at Callaway Gardens. Children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, as well as multiple generations of nieces and nephews will come together.
From coast to coast, the family will gather from over ten states. We will share pictures, stories, and tall tales. Memories. We will sit in the shade of the branches of our extended family tree. We will hug in the aftermath of this pandemic’s isolation. We will celebrate life, as Jobie has always celebrated life.
It will be a party. The cake will say “Ninety is Nifty”. At the center of the party, as always, will be Jobie Ponder. My mother. My friend. An inspiration to all, family and friend alike.
Dan Ponder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org