Tomorrow is about her, a woman worthy of celebration on the occasion of her birthday.

For 18 years now, we’ve been a part of each other’s worlds, in the familial sense. In point of fact though, we go back much farther than that.

When I was coming up in the church, and *finally* turned old enough to join the exclusive downstairs “youth hall”, I was an awkward 6th grade confirmand who stood in wide eyed wonder amongst all those cooler, older kids. She not only made me feel welcome, but also that I belonged. She – an energetic UMYF counselor whose contagious enthusiasm made me *want* to be at church, and not just when I had to be.

A few years later, when I interviewed for and was chosen to be a Vestavia Belle, it was she who crafted a custom designed bonnet to go with my lavender Antebellum era gown. The brim was encircled in purple flowers of many hues, and it had cascading satin ribbons that ran halfway down my back. When I first tried it on, I was lost in the moment – bursting with all the excitement of a royal coronation right there in the humble storefront of Frames & Fantasies.

Many more years later, I opened a lovely handwritten card from her.

“I have never seen my son so happy.”

Her only son was quickly becoming my person in this world; we were in the early days of our relationship, but we all knew well enough that this was the real deal.

On the first March 5th I celebrated with this family, we gathered at the Brookwood Village Applebee’s, and toasted the matriarch with our iced tea glasses hoisted high above the table.

That night, we also floated the idea that – if many other ifs down the road were to pan out – Eleanor would be a really lovely name for a baby girl. That hypothetical idea turned darling daughter of the King turns (*gulp*) 11 in three months’ time.

The one constant in our relationship has been the love that only a parent knows how to give. Through all the reasons and seasons that shaped me into a more mature, perceptive and considerate version of myself, she has shown patience, compassion and unconditional love.

This isn’t mere sentiment. I know it to be true because I put her through it, and she’s had my back and rooted for me all the while.

She’s also reminded me along the way, without being overbearing, off-putting or in your face evangelical about it, that the strongest unions are those that are anchored in faith.

Our very first Christmas together, when we were in the throes of wedding planning and the engagement becomes focused on location logistics and guest lists and budget limits and that photographer or this band have been booked for months so no we can’t do your wedding kind of stress, yeah – right in the thick of that. That was the Christmas she gifted us with a Department 56 nativity set, the first either of us had ever owned.

It was a meaningful gesture on its own, made more so by my first Christmas in their home, when I was welcomed into the Christmas Eve tradition that is my father-in-law reading Luke 2 before we say grace and eat. It has since become my very favorite part of this special night.

Eleanor Knowles Walden is the heart of her family. Call her “sweet” and she will be quick to correct you. She isn’t sweet. There is nothing saccharine or phony about her.

She’ll lay some hard truths on you in a hot minute and then make you homemade fried chicken while the matter is all sorted out over dinner on the antique dining table, with two days’ worth of leftovers that she’ll send home with you – just in case you get hungry.

She’ll leave specific, supportive messages on your voicemail with a “no need to call me back” sign off, just because she was thinking about you and she loves you and she wants you to know it.

She’ll listen intently when you need to unload, and then long after you’ve forgotten about whatever it was that had you all riled up, she’ll surprise you with a little happy that marks the moment, the personal growth, and the milestone of the storm you just survived.

She is remarkable in every way, and I am so thankful to be her daughter-in-law.

Happiest of Birthdays, Eleanor!