‘Twas the Day Before Her Birthday . . .

Photo by Ami Suhzu on Pexels.com

‘Twas the day before her birthday and all through the house everything was normal, there was no mouse.

The big dog was curled on her loveseat again, leaving room for her to sit with her pen,

but the poet was sleepy so she stayed at her desk hoping that typing would make up for the rest.

Today’s the last day that she’ll be 68, her birthday is coming, and yes, she can wait.

Her back it is aching, her feet are in pain, and her hair is coming out wrong once again.

The pressure is mounting for her natal day, must make it special, but how, in what way?

She’s living alone in her house in the woods and no one is coming—COVID–it’s understood.

She’s thinking she’ll buy herself a cake with gooey white frosting or buy a mix to bake,

maybe get a big fat burger and a vanilla shake, but she’s lactose intolerant, oh well, just the cake.

A card or two may arrive in the post, but it’s likely on Facebook she’ll get the most

birthday greetings from friends far and near; she’ll “like” them, the next day they’ll all disappear.

She’ll wait for packages outside her door when really she needs to go to the store

because her day is senior discount day and dog food is pricey so she’ll go, okay?

And maybe the birthday fairy will come but probably not because there isn’t one

and an unwatched United Parcel truck is more likely to come, that’s the luck,

and 69 looks a lot like 68, but oh my God, 70, there’s a sad fate,

but never mind, it hasn’t happened yet, day by day, let’s all forget

because age is just a number, true, it’s who you are and what you do

and she’s got good genes although her jeans are ripped but it doesn’t show,

she’s lucky she made it to 69, lonely yes, but mostly fine.

Except for the aching back and feet, in her head she’s only 17,

and that’s the way she plans to stay until her far-off dying day.

When she sings “happy birthday to me,” for once the song will be on key.

***

Okay, so I got a little crazy with the rhyming this morning, but hey, birthdays for grownups are not what they were when we were kids. I used to wake up surrounded by presents my mom had sneaked onto my bed. I opened them before breakfast–which was whatever I wanted to eat. I wore new clothes to school, the teacher made a big deal of my birthday, family came over in the evening with more presents, and there was cake, so much cake. My favorite was when my mom made chocolate cake frosted with Cool Whip.

At my age, it’s different. My father used to say “it’s just another day,” but it’s not. I know I’ll be awake, chanting “I’m 68, I’m 68,” waiting for the clock to strike 4:10 a.m., the time that I was born at the old O’Connor Hospital in San Jose. I tell myself I won’t, but I will. Maybe it’s a Pisces thing. Happy b-day to all my March-born friends and family. We are special.

***

This week, I have lowered the price on the Kindle version of my most recent book, Love or Children: When You Can’t Have both, to 99 cents. How can you resist that? While you’re on the Amazon page, click my name, see all my books and buy a few. That would be a nice birthday present. 

This is my 600th post at Unleashed in Oregon! Happy birthday to the blog, too. Thank you all for reading what I write. If you like it, spread the word.

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Be Merry, Be Healthy, Keep Singing

Merry Christmas, dear friends. Although this year has been a disaster and I can name lots of things that I miss–my family, hugs, eating out, in-person church, parties, swimming, lipstick, performing, live music, theater, travel, potlucks, new episodes of my favorite TV shows–I can also name quite a few things I’m grateful for this year. All of you who are reading this are right up at the top.

Sick as we all are of Zoom, it has allowed me to connect with people all over the world whom I would not usually be able to see without leaving home and traveling many miles. I have done readings and attended workshops that would have been impossible for me to get to in normal life. We are blessed to have technology that connects us in all kinds of ways. Yesterday, a friend who lives nearby but is staying home to avoid COVID video-called me via Facebook messenger. I didn’t even know that was possible, but it was great to talk to him.

Staying home has given me more time to read–81 books and counting this year–and to write. I was blessed with a poetry chapbook (The Widow at the Piano) that came out in March and a new book about childlessness, Love or Children: When You Can’t Have Both, that made its first appearance on December 7.

I have been lucky to still be able to sing and play at church for our recorded Masses at St. Anthony’s in Waldport. Most other musical outlets are closed, but I’m still singing for God, and I’m grateful.

I’m also thankful for Annie the dog and our long walks, for time to bake and try out new recipes, and time to connect by phone or online with people I can’t see in person. I’m grateful that the beach is still nearby.

It has been a hard year. I have lost nine friends in 2020 and may lose more before the year ends. I’m still grieving the loss of my father and the house I grew up in. Of course, I miss my husband, too. I know now why some old ladies weep so often. But we go on. As I write this, I have fresh-baked honey-oat bread to eat with homemade spinach soup and fruit salad for dinner, I’m reading a book I’m finding hard to put down–The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd, and I still have more episodes of “Victoria” on Amazon Prime to watch. Plus, I actually got my bathrooms clean and my laundry done. I am blessed.

I wish you all the best possible holidays this year. If it can’t be the usual lollapalooza, enjoy the simple things, being with the people in your “bubble,” singing the songs, saying the prayers, eating the food, soaking in the decorations, and watching those corny Christmas movies.

I’m not good at making music videos. I’m embarrassed to say how many tries it took to make the one posted here and how many more tries it took to get it online, all the while having to listen to myself sing. Let’s just say, I don’t need to sing Silent Night again unless I can sing harmony with someone else.

Big socially distanced hugs,

Sue

In the Wild: What If I Don’t Make It Home?

Halfway up the long-deserted path, I start thinking: what if I die out here? The trees have grown up over my head on both sides and the path is just wide enough for Annie to pull me along through salal, blackberries, Scotch broom, and young pines. We usually stay on the roads, but Annie keeps finding human garbage to eat, and I’m tired of having to pry it out of her mouth. (Use trash cans, people!)

Once upon a time, the entrance to this trail was wide open, with a log to the side that I used to rest on. Now the log is half rotten and buried in Scotch broom and blackberries.

The trail is part of several acres east of Cedar Street in South Beach that were once cleared for a potential golf course resort, leaving rows of tree trunks that looked like gravestones. When that plan was delayed and dropped, the plants grew back, leaving a maze of trails that my late husband Fred, our old dog Sadie, and I explored back in the days we were all had good knees.

Annie read my mind today when I thought about trying this path again. I had my rugged shoes and old pants on. I had plenty of time. The knee that locked up early in our walk felt strong now. So here we are.

The chain at the trail entrance is not quite a foot off the ground, but Annie can’t jump it anymore. She has old knees, shored up with pins and posts. She army-crawls under and I steps over. She leads and I follow.

Soon we are far from civilization, hidden in the trees. What if my knee gives out? What if Annie’s knees give out? What if bears or cougars are lurking nearby?

We have seen deer, rabbits, squirrels, and garter snakes on past walks. I have stepped over “woolly bear” caterpillars and orange-bellied newts. Is that cougar scat over there?

Wildlife experts say making noise will let the critters know you are there and convince them to steer clear. I start to sing. Amazing Grace, Swing Low Sweet Chariot. Steal Away. Every spiritual I can think of. Blackberry thorns scrape my coat, pulling threads. My feet slip on rocks. All the while, feet and paws keep pushing along.

We’re halfway through, too far from either end to get out easily, when I think about dying. I’m 68. People my age have strokes and heart attacks. I could fall. I could get ripped up by a bear that doesn’t like spirituals.

If I die, who will know that the new book that is this close to publication is sitting in my computer? No one else knows what I do at my desk all day. Who will eat the food in my fridge before it spoils? Who will tell the church choir director I won’t be there this weekend? Who will tell my friends and family I’m dead? What if Annie survives and I don’t? She has no clue how to feed herself in the wild.

Who will find my body? I can’t die. I haven’t decided yet whether I want to be buried or cremated.

Okay. Focus on the trail. Smell the smells, see the sights, feel the duff underfoot.

Left, right, left, right. Uphill to a small clearing, steep rocky downhill, don’t slip, blackberry thorns tearing my coat. Okay, almost there. I hoped for a view of the ravine and the airport beyond, but the trees have grown too tall. I catch just a glimpse of a red and white marker on the runway.

In the summer, Annie and I ate blackberries off the vines, but now there’s nothing left but wrinkled nubs. Someone left a sofa cushion by one of the most prolific vines. How did they get it there? Why?

A few feet on, Annie suddenly drops and rolls. Mud and what else? Something dead, something disgusting. Come on, dog.

Almost there. Pines and vines rise high on both sides. It feels like walking through a canopy of garlands or crossed swords as we emerge on Cedar Street. Where are the cheering crowds?

Annie hesitates.

“Do you know where you are?” I ask. “We made it.” No bears out here, at least not in daylight. Houses, people, cars, other dogs. Safety.

She chugs on like a machine; she will need a pain pill tonight.

I wonder if I should leave a list of everything not done every time I leave the house. But how could I keep it up? It’s impossible. Something will always be left undone. Life is like a test where you can’t see the bottom of the page and you will not finish before God calls “pencils up.”

Winter is here. We’ll stay on the roads for a while, but I’m sure the trails will beckon again. I have a lot more songs to sing.

***

That was last week. Since we survived, I’m happy to report that the new book, Love or Children: When You Can’t Have Both, is now available for purchase at Amazon.com and will be available by the weekend to order from your favorite bookstore. It is a compilation of posts from my Childless by Marriage blog and attempts to answer the question “What do you do if your partner can’t or won’t have children with you?” Stay tuned for information about upcoming book events.

If I don’t get eaten by a bear.