My mother’s fiftieth birthday party is still fresh in my mind, nearly 26 years later. Mom wasn’t likely to be surprised because a fiftieth birthday “Over the Hill” party was thrown for every person in her husband’s family. Nevertheless, my stepfather secretly reserved a room at the Eagles Club in a neighboring town, where many of our family gatherings were held.

“Call your mother and tell her your car broke down in Hastings and you need her to come and get you and the girls,” he whispered into the phone that day.

“Okay,” I said, going along with the ploy even if she was unlikely to be surprised. The story would certainly be plausible enough. I was a 27-year-old divorced mother of two, unable to keep up with car repairs in spite of working two jobs. Because their father didn’t exercise his visitation privileges more than one or two weekends a year, my 8- and 5-year-old daughters were always with me.

I drove on that cold February day to the club and called Mom as instructed. There were no cell phones back then, but no Caller ID to give me away either.

“Hi, Mom,” I said. “My car broke down. I hate to ask but can you come and pick us up? We’re in Hastings.”

“Hastings?” she asked. “That’s strange. What are you doing in Hastings?”

Mom would never just go along pretending she was unaware of the surprise. She had to show everyone they couldn’t pull one over on her. Unfortunately, I hadn’t anticipated the question. “Um, uh, I can’t talk about it right now,” I stumbled. “Will you please just come and get us?”

When she was finally seated at the party Mom couldn’t help but gloat. “I wasn’t really surprised you know.” She went on to tell everyone how she could see right through my story about the car breaking down in Hastings. And that’s when my youngest brother snuck up behind her and covered her eyes.

“Guess who,” he said.

My 18-year-old brother had driven all the way from Ohio for her birthday. We had pulled off a big surprise after all.

Mom and all her peers had a great time celebrating under the black crepe paper decorations, joking all the while about being “over the hill.” In fact, she wore it like a badge of honor. Seven of their eight children had moved out by then. They enjoyed their many grandchildren and even had time to travel a bit. What was not to love?

As I approach my own fifty-fourth birthday, I wonder where the years have gone. I’m a grandmother now, too, and so are many of my friends. Although we talk about failing eyesight, aging parents, hot flashes and other challenges of middle age, we also embrace the freedoms of an empty nest, the joys of grandchildren and the possibilities for our eventual retirement. Most of all, I enjoy the wisdom I’ve gained from 54 years of rewards and challenges. I’ve witnessed tragedies and triumphs of friends, family and strangers, each one reminding me of my family’s many blessings and the importance of undying faith, hope and love.

As one of the younger Baby Boomers, I don’t feel over the hill just yet. I worked very hard to climb it and, like the first Boomers now entering an adventurous retirement at age 70, I’ll stay on top of the hill for as long as I can. It’s from there I’ll be writing this blog: reflections of an ordinary suburban American woman with some extraordinary life experiences. I hope to pay forward some of the wisdom I’ve gained from mentors, friends and family of all ages over the years. This is my View From the Hill.


  1. Kimberly arndt

    Eight children! I didn’t know you had that many siblings! I am the oldest of five. I explained to a nurse anesthetist yesterday that my deformities were a result of thalidomide. She asked if my younger siblings had the same deformities! Keep telling your story Carolyn. Many people, (even those in the medical field) still need educated!

  2. Carolyn Farmer Sampson

    I have three biological siblings. When I was 17 my father married someone with 3 children and a few months later my mother married someone with 4 children. My father married a third time and I had one more sibling. So 11 siblings total in my life but only grew up with three of them.


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