DRY BRANCH --
Janice Findlay went bowling two weeks ago. She joined some friends at Gold Cup on Pio Nono Avenue to practice for the upcoming fall league.
It was five days before her birthday on Aug. 12. Although she appreciated the early birthday wishes, she didn’t advertise she was going to be 80 years old.
She didn’t look 80. She didn’t feel 80. Until two years ago, she was still working at a Macon bank.
There aren’t many octogenarians who carry a 147 bowling average or who can still pick up a bowling ball, for that matter.
In the fifth frame of the third game, Janice rolled her blue, 12-pound Ebonite bowling ball down the lane. When she turned around, she spotted a man standing by the front counter. It was her oldest son, Mark.
She was surprised to see him. Although they had talked earlier in the week, and she told him she would be at the bowling alley on Thursday, she was not expecting him.
“Whenever he says he ‘might’ see me somewhere, he never does,” she said, laughing.
She hurried over to hug him -- Janice is a serial hugger -- when she noticed another man was with Mark.
He sure looked familiar. Very familiar.
He was wearing an Atlanta Falcons T-shirt and camouflage shorts. He had on a baseball cap with his sunglasses across the top of the bill. He sported a beard. It was auburn-colored with a few specks of gray.
“When I looked at him, and he smiled, I lost it,” she said. “He has such a nice smile. When you look in his eyes, they smile, too.”
Janice can be forgiven for not immediately recognizing her youngest son, Paul Findlay. After all, she had not seen him in six years.
“I grabbed him and didn’t want to turn him loose,” she said. “All the other bowlers were staring at me. I held onto him for a long time. That was the best birthday surprise I’ve ever had.”
Paul also was a “surprise” when he arrived in the world 43 years ago. After the stork dropped off her daughter Sandy, 50, and son Mark, 48, Janice figured she was through having babies.
Then -- oops -- along came Paul. She turned 37 the year he was born. After he graduated from Northeast High School in 1990, he enlisted in the Army.
While siblings Mark and Sandy have stayed close to the nest, settling around Macon and Twiggs County, Paul has been a moving target. He spent 20 years in the Army and was deployed to the Middle East and Iraq. He now lives and works in Los Angeles.
He doesn’t get home often. Janice and her husband, Yancy, have gotten occasional calls from across the latitudes and along the longitudes. It’s pointless to write his address in ink.
Janice was so thrilled to see Paul that day that she could hardly contain her excitement. As her happy heart bounced through Gold Cup, her bowling game slipped away like a gutter ball.
“After that, I didn’t have too many spares or strikes,” she said. “I couldn’t hit the broad side of a green barn.”
During the week Paul was home, the Findlay family made sure he got his fill of Southern vittles. They piled his plate high with ham, potato salad, turnip greens and corn bread. He requested some of his mom’s famous pimento cheese and washed it down with iced tea.
His guest breakfast fare included grits, which is not on many menus in L.A. One night in Macon, the Findlays went out for steaks at Texas Roadhouse. To celebrate her birthday, Janice rode the “saddle on wheels” to the table. (That’s a claim not many 80-year-old ladies can make.)
She went with Paul to several local sporting goods stores to shop for University of Georgia and Atlanta Braves merchandise. Those items aren’t readily available in California, either. He wanted something for his girlfriend, so they bought a small plaque that reads: “Y’all Come!”
When Paul left to return to the West Coast, she told him to not be a stranger. She doesn’t want to wait another six years to see him again. She thanked him for making her 80th birthday extra special.
Mother and son reunions usually don’t grab the headlines or make the 6 o’clock news. But if we step back from the news cycles that consume us -- terrorist threats, celebrity suicides and racial unrest -- it’s comforting to know simple joys and celebrations still surround us.
All we have to do is look for them.
Contact Gris at 744-475 or firstname.lastname@example.org.