She’s still ‘Fabulous at Eighty’

Published 9:22 am Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The invitation said “She’s Fabulous at Eighty.” It was an invitation to the 80th birthday party of an amazing woman, my mother. Bay Point, Florida, her home for almost 30 years, was the setting, even though she has recently decided to move to Atlanta.

Our family began gathering on Thursday. I am not talking about just her children and grandchildren. By midnight, all of her nieces and nephews on both sides of the family had arrived on a variety of flights from states all over the country. Oregon, Washington, Utah, Illinois and Alabama were all represented.

By the next day, the rest of the family had arrived. All of her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, made it, of course, but also many of her great nieces and nephews.

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Her sister and brother arrived, along with first cousins. It was a testament to the strength of family bonds over time and space that so many of her relatives traveled thousands of miles to celebrate with Jobie Ponder.

Shrimp, ribs, and beef tenderloins were the main courses for the Friday night family dinner, prepared by one of the best chefs in this part of the country, my brother, Ernest.

With a special permit granted by Bay Point, we hauled in Hardee’s cookers and trailers to do it up right. By the end of the night, I expect everyone in the neighborhood was aware of where the party was.

We had a bean bag tournament with cousins, uncles and aunts teamed up to win $80 in prizes. Amazingly, my mother made it to the finals, only to be eased out by her nephew and great-nephew.

We then had to name 80 memories that she herself could confirm. Sometimes the memories had different variations, but they spanned eight decades and were a lot of fun. They were written down to preserve as a keepsake.

Saturday was spent on the beaches, Shell Island, and taking naps. The big party was Saturday night. True to form, no one at Bay Point shows up early, but no one is very late. The guests seemed to arrive en masse just at the appointed time.

There was great food, great music and great company. A table of my mother’s high school classmates made the trip down from Dothan. They graduated together 60 years ago and have remained friends all these years.

There was a large contingent of what I call her Bay Point Family. For 30 years they have shared retirement with golf, tennis, fishing, boating, and more social events than you can imagine. They have great memories to share.

There was her church family, from Woodlawn United Methodist Church. It says a lot when your minister and his wife are the first ones to the party. The choir director of my mother’s beloved choir was also there; along with others that she has shared various ministries with during her membership at that great church.

There was her extended family, large in number because almost everyone I am related to was there.

Together, we all shared one thing; an enduring friendship with Jobie Ponder. She has laughed, cried, and played with almost everyone there. She has nurtured those hurting and sick, and been taken care of by those who loved her in return.

A high school classmate, Earl Dove of Dothan, told me that my mother was a terrific friend to many when they were growing up. “She has remained a terrific friend all these years,” he said. “You should be very proud of her.” I am.

The last hour the band played, it was mostly family, having our own private dance for about an hour. How fitting it was that my mother was the last on the dance floor, doing the electric slide. She had taught two of her grandchildren that dance earlier in the week.

If there ever was a person that personified age being a state of mind, it is my mother. She danced with everyone that asked her. She moved from table to table, beaming as she shared the memories of a lifetime.

The next morning, the family made its way to Woodlawn Methodist for the Easter service. My mother went to both services, singing in the choir twice. We sat together in reserved rows near the front, where she could see all of us.

It may have been the best birthday party I have ever been to. Joy and happiness and good memories were everywhere. Friends from all the families of her life mingled and enjoyed each other.

As I reflected on the events of the weekend after finally returning home Monday evening, I realized that the good times were not just because of the food, music, or family. They were because of the common feelings that everyone had for Jobie Ponder.

It is a reflection of her extraordinary life, her many friendships, and her love of life that made it such a special weekend.

She says with confidence that she is ready for the next phase of her life, as she prepares to move to Atlanta. Even now she is teaching all of us lessons about how to approach life. Her glass is always half full.

All of my mother’s many friends and family join me in wishing Jobie Ponder a Happy 80th Birthday. She really is still “Fabulous at Eighty.”

Dan Ponder can be reached at