How can he be 16?

Sherri Gardner HowellBlount, Farragut, Kitchen Table Talk

I love milestone birthdays, especially when I’m not the one getting older.

My grandson Cohen turned Sweet 16 on Thanksgiving Day, which doesn’t seem even slightly possible. I’m sure it seems quite possible to him – and that it has taken its sweet time getting here – but to us “old-timers,” he should still be a babe in arms.

Cohen wasn’t born on Thanksgiving Day back in 2005, but his birthday will always hit close to the holiday. On the day of his actual birth, it was Friday, the day after Thanksgiving.

I first got to hold and be amazed by this precious baby several weeks later when the new family came to Knoxville to visit. I remember how beautiful he was and how I was painfully aware that it had been a long time since I held a baby. Watching mom Olivia with her new son was an amazing revelation. My son’s best friend was a mother.

Of course, I did not know on that day that this baby I was already in love with would someday be my grandson. When that transition came eight years later, it was another milestone day. To be doubly blessed with getting not only a new daughter-in-law but a grandson as well filled my heart with happiness.

Cohen is blessed with a lot of doting grandparents. Still, he has always swept Granddaddy and Gigi up in his circle of love. We love him completely and watching him grow and become an astounding young man is an amazing adventure all on its own.

Turning 16 is so different now from the year I moved from “boring 15” to the wild new world of “16 and free!” That was how my friends and I looked at this milestone birthday: We could get our driver’s license, so we were suddenly free to roll out and explore.

Never mind that all our parents held a tight rein on our comings-and-goings. Never mind that we lived in a small town that was not exactly filled with adventurous activities to lure us away. Never mind that none of us had ever even driven on the interstate and were unlikely to do so anytime soon. We felt “free,” and that was what was important.

My mother decided to throw me a surprise birthday party for my 16th birthday. My boyfriend and I had just “broken up,” and I needed some cheering up. She decided a surprise party was just the ticket.

She knew she would have no problem getting me out-of-the-house to get things ready, as I was always ready to go anywhere and everywhere. Her main problem was making sure I was “properly” dressed for the party, which was not the usual jeans and hippie shirt I tended to wear most every day. She bought me a new skirt and blouse at one of the nicest stores in Jackson and convinced me that my grandmother wanted to see me wearing it.

Grumbling the entire time, I got dressed and drove around the block to my grandparent’s house. It would have been quicker to walk across the vacant field that separated our houses, but, hey, I was 16 now and could legally do what I had been doing illegally for more than a year: Drive around the block.

My grandmother probably fed me pie or cake – we shared the same birthday, so there was always pie and cake for our special day. After a phone call from my mother, she shooed me on my way home where I walked into a chorus of “Surprise!”

I don’t remember much about the party except that I was definitely surprised and that we all had a wonderful time. School was out, summer was starting, and I was 16. What was there to worry about?

I am sure my mother and grandmothers looked at me with the same mystery in their eyes and hearts as I look at Cohen. Years tumble away so quickly, and those milestone birthdays help us remember to cherish every day.

Cohen is a blessing I will not take for granted.

Sherri Gardner Howell has been writing about family life for newspapers and magazines since 1987. She lives in West Knoxville, is married to Neville Howell and has two sons and three grandsons. Her newest adventure is as a travel agent with her own company, SGH Go Travel. Email her at


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