Joanne Mae Adams in high school and Joanne Adams Curtis nowadays — top right photo by Taylor Yau

She used to fight her twin sister over who got to babysit at a friend’s house because they had something called “TV.” Once the kids were asleep, she would turn on the screen and just stare at the test pattern, “There was seldom anything on,” she said. “But it was so fascinating.”

Now she carries an iPhone that’s connected to her hearing aids. A call comes in and she hears it in her brain. Talk about fascinating!

My mom turns 90 this week and instead of a test pattern, she records Lawrence O’Donnell on MSNBC every night and then listens to him the next morning.

I’ve always been transfixed by the advances Mom’s eyewitnessed, from penicillin to pantyhose. It seems almost fictional to think about the technology she’s adapted to. In her senior living apartment, she routinely pulls something out of her freezer and pops it into the microwave. Neither of those contraptions were around when she was growing up.

I think of the cultural changes she’s witnessed, too. There are wonderful LGBTQ+ folks in our family, along with a beautiful rainbow of nationalities who married into her brood or are now blood relatives.

Mom’s traveled such an incredible, historical highway. I don’t know if there’s ever been another 90-year arc in human history that’s experienced so much change.

I am who I am as a person because of her — from my sense of social justice, to my love of cooking, learning not to suppress tears … all the way down to my first Wordle guess (She uses N-O-I-S-E to capture or eliminate a bunch of vowels and consonants).

We’re celebrating her birthday Friday with a luncheon gala; some sandwiches, a little cake, lots of love and laughter. Family’s flying in from both coasts as well as parts in between. Trying to write this, my phone keeps blowing up with messages from my brothers and cousins about a game we’re putting together about her. It’s based on the NCAA tournament brackets, but instead of teams, my cousin Chris is slotting in fun memories about Mom and her twin, Janet, who passed a few years back.

There’s so much to say about Joanne Curtis, but since the lady taught me how to cry, it’s impossible to write more without drenching my keyboard. I want to talk about her decades of Progressive activism, both subtle and bold — like when she marched on Washington to end the Vietnam war. I’d love to tell more about how she taught First Grade and then volunteered as a Reading Recovery specialist in some of the neediest inner-city schools well into her 80s.

I can’t conceivably encapsulate everything about Mom, so let me finish with this. When she was just a toddler, her parents kept asking what her name was.

“Jo … Jo … nan,” she’d answer. Nothing, no response.

“Jo… Anne,” they’d snap their fingers with glee and say, “Exactly right!”

From that point on, though, whenever they asked her name, she’d reply, “Jo-nan ‘Zactlyright!” with a big smile.

We all love you Jo-nan. And if you think we’re excited to honor and toast the 90 years you’ve given to us and the world, well, you’re ‘Zactlyright!