We all lost an hour, but I gained a year in California


When the time changed last Sunday, I was in California. It happened to be my birthday, so I not only lost an hour of sleep but added a year to my age. Now I’m a nice even number.
 
When you’re my age, birthdays aren’t what they used to be. My mother, who used to make sure birthdays were special, has been gone for almost 12 years, and my husband, who did his fumbling best, has also passed away. My dog doesn’t do birthdays. In recent years, I have had some great celebrations with my friends and some quiet ones with myself. Many years I have bought myself a tiny cake and eaten it alone, but don’t cry for me, Argentina. I enjoyed every bite.
This year, I found myself in California with the family. I had heard about a poetry workshop that sounded wonderful, realized I could arrange the time off from work to do it, and could combine it with a visit with Dad, whom I last saw at the hospital after his heart surgery in December. The fact that my birthday fell on the day after the workshop was a coincidence.
Dad is doing great, by the way. The sparkle is back in his blue eyes, and he mowed the lawns while I was at my workshop. The fact that he feels well enough to do yard work again is a darned good birthday present. Anyway, it was Sunday. We got up early and went to church at St. Martin’s. Then we took our usual trip to the cemetery to visit Mom and the rest of the gang.
By then, my brother and his wife were on their way. After they arrived and I opened my gift of scarves and fuzzy socks, we sat around and talked a bit, debated a while over where to have lunch, and ended up at Red Lobster. It’s a lot more expensive than the commercials imply, but the food was fabulous. After gorging on shrimp and lobster linguini, I was encouraged to order dessert. My red velvet cake in a jar—seriously cute—arrived with a single lighted candle on top, and the servers sang “Happy birthday.” I heard my sister-in-law, brother and father singing along, a first. Unlike me, they don’t sing. So nice.
Back home, I talked to my lifelong friend Sherri on the phone. She moved to Texas three years ago. She’s about six weeks older than I am, and we always call each other on our birthdays. We had a great talk, although she had sad news. Her old dog Gus died. She has a new pooch named Pepsi. Much worse, her older brother is dying of cancer. Nuts. Getting old is tough. I was sitting in the patio looking out at the lawn and reminded her of those summer evenings when we used to play badminton out there until it got so dark we couldn’t see the birdie. I can still feel the grass on my bare feet and the moths rising up around us. Those were the days, we agreed. No troubles, at least none that mattered. Thank God we’re still friends.

My sweetest birthday gift was the one I gave myself, that poetry workshop led by Ellen Bass and Roger Housden. If you’re into poetry, check them out. Great people, great poems, great workshops. Of course Dad’s response was “Poetry???? What do you get out of that?” Never mind. The workshop took place at Dominican University in San Rafael, which happens to be where I attended one of my first writing conferences in the 1970s and won first prize in the poetry contest. So, I had good memories. Of course, nothing looks the same and the drive through Bay Area traffic added a few gray hairs, but Dominican is still a quiet world of trees and squirrels and stately old buildings.
For seven hours, we poets talked, wrote and shared what we wrote. We could write anywhere we wanted, so people spread out on the lawn, the stairs, and the benches scattered around. Most of us were boomers, nearly all women about my age who knew the value of a day with nothing pulling at us. We had time to think, time to write, and time to make new friends. Two of us were celebrating birthdays on Saturday, and mine was Sunday. Lots of Pisces are poets. For me, that day was the perfect gift.
So, I have survived another birthday in good health. And the Facebook good wishes are still pouring in. Thank you to everyone. I am blessed.

Don’t Tell Me I’m Too Old for a Birthday Party

It’s all Mom’s fault. Every birthday, I woke up to find my bed covered with gifts and cards. I got to wear new clothes to school and eat whatever I wanted for dinner. We had company, cake and singing, and I felt like a princess.

Somehow, now that I’m a grownup, it doesn’t happen quite that way. The plumbing backs up, clients want their work on time and don’t care if it’s my birthday, and most of the family kind of forgets that hey, it’s my special day.
Hello! It’s March 9th. It’s my birthday.
It seems as if once you pass a certain age, you’re not supposed to celebrate birthdays. At least not so that anyone would notice. Just another day, says my brother. Don’t you dare tell anyone it’s my birthday, says a friend at church. One year closer to death, says another gloomy friend. I don’t have birthdays anymore, yet another friend responds when asked if this might possibly be her birthday.
Not me. I want to celebrate. I’m still alive, still healthy, still doing what I want to do. Sure, I’m older, but I don’t feel any older. I think a birthday is an important occasion, time to look at yourself and your life and thank God for the good things and resolve to get rid of the bad things. It’s a time to say, “Hoorah, I have passed another milestone.”
 It’s the beginning of a whole new year of life.
I still have fantasies of the family gathered around, torn wrapping paper and presents at my feet, and chocolate cake on a plate in my lap–with big frosting flowers so sugary they make your teeth hurt. I want to see the lit candles in the dark and hear everyone singing to me.
Me, me, me. I recently discovered that large groups of Christians and others don’t approve of birthdays. There’s the “me, me, me,” factor, selfish, spoiled and ungodly. But also, the whole cake-and-candle tradition began as a pagan rite to ward off evil spirits thousands of years ago. Since Jesus never mentioned birthday parties in the Bible, we have no scriptural basis for having them. Furthermore, keeping track of birthdays smacks of astrology, a kissing cousin of witchcraft.
Holy cow, but my saintly Catholic mother started it. If Mom baked the cake with her own hands and lit the candles and sang “Happy Birthday” to me, how could it be bad? She wasn’t singing to chase away evil spirits; she was singing about how she loved me. And maybe celebrating having gotten this accident-prone offspring through another year of life.
In our American culture, kids get birthday parties. We also throw parties for adults celebrating the so-called milestone birthdays: 21, 40, 50, 65, 80, 90, 100. For the years in-between, things sort of fall apart. You don’t get a party, unless you’re like our departed friend Robert who used to throw himself a whopper of a fiesta every year, with tons of food, a huge crowd, and hangovers that lasted for a week.
The rest of us mark our birthdays with sedate lunches, cakes at the office, and a few cards–some of which arrive a week or more after the actual birthday. Now we also get e-mail cards from those family members who will never get their act together enough to actually buy, sign and mail a real card. Last year, I received one with three pigs singing “Happy Birthday” to the tune of “Funiculi Funicula.” I read it, I laughed, it was gone.
Over the years, I have developed certain birthday rituals. My favorite is to run away for the day, then go out for dinner and cake that evening. On a typical birthday when Fred was still here, I drove north up the coast. I did some shopping at the outlet stores in Lincoln City, took myself to lunch, visited the quilt museum in Tillamook and walked on the beach. At Cape Lookout, I stood high over the Pacific Ocean and blew soap bubbles from a red plastic bottle of Mr. Bubble, watching them float into the sky and disappear into the clouds. I thought about my life, counted my blessings, and made some plans. Then I came home and pigged out on chocolate with my faithful husband, whom I had programmed for a month to either honor my birthday or sleep with the dog.
Aside from lunch with friends, I don’t know what I’ll do this year, but I do know that it’s supposed to be a special day. Mom always said so.
Perhaps it’s unseemly to celebrate one’s birthday as if one were still a child. Perhaps it’s even sinful. But I don’t believe it. God gave us this life, and if he grants us another year, I think it would be ungrateful not to celebrate as hard as we can.
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