Zooming To Celebrate My Mother, The Seattle Centenarian

By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

My mom, Mary Ellen Hersman White, turned 100 years old on August 26th. She lives in Seattle, where I was born and raised, at a wonderful downtown facility with a gorgeous view of Puget Sound. Seattle has been one of the most hard-hit American cities this summer, both with COVID and civil unrest, and coming up with a way to celebrate a century of her living in a remarkable era was somewhat complicated. I have two older sisters, Sharon and Kathryn. Sharon lives in Seattle, and Kathryn lives New York, the other Ground Zero when it comes to COVID. I sent them an email earlier this summer that suggested we do a Zoom party for our mom, and with the help of a number of people in several cities, we managed to pull it off.

Let’s start with the folks in Athens who boosted my confidence enough to consider actually hosting a Zoom party. I have been on a zillion Zoom calls, long before COVID, but hosting one is a bit more daunting. In Athens, Tracie Spain of Frame Gallery Off The Square and Randy McKinney of Athens Athletics got on mock Zoom calls with me so I could practice hosting. They are in my Business Network International group, and the group also sent my mom flowers. My Juice Plus sponsor, Carrie Radnov, who lives in St. Louis, also practiced with me. As always, my Olympia, WA, friends Carl and Barb Walker rolled out the red carpet and took excellent care of me while I stayed in their home for the week.

Just before I flew to Seattle, (and trust me, flying is straight up weird these days) Sharon texted me to tell me that I was actually going to have a chance to see Mutti. (Mutti, pronounced MOOtee is a German nickname that my former brother-in-law taught me over 50 years ago. It closely approximates “mommy.”) She had, out of an abundance of caution been kept semi-sequestered on the 3rd floor of her building, and Horizon House had just decided to let residents “hold court” outside. On Monday, August 24, I sat down behind a clear screen with a mask on my face, and my mom was escorted to a chair on the other side. I was firmly instructed to not try to reach around the barrier to touch her, and it was hard. All I wanted to do was hold her. Yet, I got to see her, and it was utterly worth the strangeness of the setting.

As I was walking back to my car, my cousin Wendy Price called out of nowhere and said, “I have had this idea. What do you think of having a Zoom party for your mom?” Oh, man. How did she know that I still needed so much help? We made plans for practice Zoom meetings which were patiently attended by my sister Sharon and my cousin Caren; Wendy contacted missing cousins and sent out a much improved invitation to far-flung friends and family, and we were set.

On August 26, at 5 p.m. Pacific Time, my mom and an aid from Horizon House, my husband, my sisters, my kids, stepdaughter, nieces, nephews, cousins, and other family members all gathered on Zoom for a virtual party that spanned from New Zealand to Seattle. Their birthday greetings were recorded, and at the end of our time together, it was suggested that we not wait ‘til someone turns 100 before we do it again. Who knows what could happen? All I know for now is that I will never forget the kindness of family and friends, and I have no way to convey my thanks to all who made this possible. May God bless all y’all.