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Superlove trumped the superstorm

Sandy couldn’t blow out of the candles of

Sandy couldn’t blow out of the candles of Clara Fenster’s birthday cake, held by daughter, Marlene. Credit: Handout

In my 70 years, I have had many magic moments with my mother, but the most recent is one of the best. It took place on Nov. 9, 11 days after most of my family lost their homes to superstorm Sandy. My mom, her significant other, my husband and I were living with my daughter and her family in Oceanside. My son-in-law spent a good deal of time buying gas to run the generator that would keep us warm. My sister and brother-in-law were with one of their daughters, in the dark, in Merrick. My son and his family were with his mother-in-law in Queens; a niece was with friends. And it was my mother's 91st birthday.

The material parts of our lives were on our front lawns; Our photos, albums, CDs, books and furniture. It was the visible erasure of our past. We desperately sought electricians, plumbers, carpenters and anyone who could help us rebuild. Still, it was my mother's 91st birthday.

All birthdays are a cause for celebration, and we all desperately needed something to celebrate, so my daughter sent an early morning text to the family: "We will celebrate Grandma's birthday today at 3:30." There was no need to RSVP. While my husband was at physical therapy after knee surgery, I went to Mario's Bakery across the street. A kindly older woman took time to help me find the perfect cake. On it she wrote "Happy Birthday Grandma 91." I carried the cake home, wondering who else would be eating it.

That afternoon I put out paper plates and plastic forks and napkins. We didn't say anything to my mother because we didn't know if anybody would show up. At 3:30, it was just us. We were clad in sweaters and sweatshirts. The room was dimly lit by a lantern. At 4, my son, daughter-in-law, grandson and granddaughter arrived. At 4:10, one of my nieces and her sons joined us; then my sister and brother-in-law, followed in close succession by two other nieces and their families. By 4:30, we were 12 adults and nine children, huddled together on the sectional sofa and some chairs. Hats and scarves remained on but the room was warmed by the profusion of love for my mother that emanated from the family she created.

When I carried in the cake with its three small candles, it was as though the sun came out and shone upon us. And when we sang "Happy Birthday," it was as mellifluous as the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. In those few moments, Sandy was forgotten and my mother's fortitude and profound love were all that was remembered.

--Marlene Willard, Oceanside

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