Nell Mask is my mother-in-law, and as MILs go, I hit the billion dollar jackpot.
The first time we met, in 1990, was a Saturday trip from Hunstville over to Navasota for me to meet Bob and Nell (and, of course, be politely sized-up). Bob Sr. and Nell were generous and open and so much fun. And the following week, my Bob received a card from his mom telling him, in short, "Don't screw this up."
When we found out I was pregnant before our first anniversary, it was Nell who handmade me a pregnancy shirt proudly proclaiming "Mask Productions: Due January 1993"
Nothing delighted her more than her children until she had grandchildren.
Living only 45 minutes away there were many early baby months were I packed up baby Nicholas and we spent Saturdays with the Masks in Navasota, not so much for colicky Nick to be soothed, but more for his first-time mom. Nell would happily scoop him up and rock him and sing to him for hours. I would actually get a nap.
She tried heartily to teach Nicholas, same as grandchild #1, to call her "Grandmother" but when all he managed of that multi-syllabic choice was "Mun-a" she was delighted with it. And Muna she was, to both Nicholas and later Samantha.
When we had the opportunity to move to Navasota and be down the block when Nick was a year old, we jumped at it. Bob transferred from Hunstville and, now living only 20 minutes from Bryan/College Station, I was able to land a part-time teaching gig at Blinn, which led to a full-time gig later. Bob made the jumped from TDCJ to Texas A&M about the same time.
And both Nicholas and Samantha were able to have "Mrs. Mask" as their pre-k teacher, along with countless other Navasota children through the years.
You see, Nell adores children in a way very few do. She meticulously planned activities and learning for four year-olds for a quarter of a century, first at Jack and Jill and later at Mother Goose Daycare. She would labor over a book handmade for each of her graduates filled with photos she had taken of them while in her care, letters and art she had helped them craft through the year, notes about how wonderful they were, for the parents.
We have those still.
What we don't have this year is Nell awake to wish a happy birthday today.
She has slipped into a coma-like state from which, hospice workers tell us, she will not return. Her beloved Bob has been at her side every minute. And we wait for the inevitable: for her to let go and move on and for us to grieve her loss.
So although she will not be able to hear me this year, I am thankful for her birth today, as we mark her 82nd year on earth, as a blessing to everyone who knew her.
We love you, Nell.