This past week I celebrated another birthday. It was a milestone, being number 55. This year events coincided that made the day just a day. My wife recently had back surgery and is recovering at home (doing well, but still has pain). My eldest son is busy with work projects and a new baby. My youngest son lives elsewhere and had to work (though he did call and we had a great conversation). Good friends had other family obligations or were traveling. I worked all day. In fact, this is one memory of my birthday that will go down as being one of the most unremarkable. For that alone, I will probably always remember it.
I will count the small kindnesses/gestures along the way: The balloons shared by coworkers who recently turned 55 this month and like to tease each other about who is older. We now have a special club – and I will always get used balloons because of it. The blueberry pie made for me by a family friend who was looking in on my wife as she recuperates. The phone call from my youngest son to wish me a happy birthday. The adorable phone call from my parents singing “happy birthday” in different keys. Note: My parents are career musicians and are never off-key. Greetings shared on social media (FB) from friends and family – far and wide- hoping that I had the greatest day – the best day. Yet, it was just a day, and I guess there is nothing wrong with that.
I reflected on past birthdays and wondered what made a day the best day – the greatest day. I’m not sure I have the answer, but I did dredge up some good memories of birthdays.
On my eleventh birthday, I received my first vinyl album as a gift from my parents. It was Magical Mystery Tour by the Beatles. I had recently been introduced to their non-mop-top music by a school friend, and was immediately smitten with the lyrical genius of John Lennon on I am the Walrus. It would be the first of many vinyl albums I would receive on my birthdays/Christmases.
On my 13th birthday, I had a sleepover party with 8 friends. I think this was my first and only sleepover birthday party. We ate hotdogs and hamburgers, played badminton, wiffle-ball and touch football, then roamed around the neighborhood after dark – playing ghost in the graveyard.
On my 27th birthday, I received my PhD.
For my 40th birthday, my wife purchased third base line tickets to a AAA baseball game in our city. We went with some dear friends (one each of our children share a birthday) we had recently reconnected with.
On my 50th birthday, I was traveling in Germany with my eldest son and my father. We were in Nuremburg on that day and visited Coburg Castle. Facebook likes to remind me of that day every year and I smile.
There are memories of other birthdays, but all the things that make days special are there in that list: meaningful gifts and gestures, landmark events, good food and fellowship, and exciting adventures in new places.
They are still just days – though, and I hope you have a great one.
Knocking about the blue Mylanta bottles
we built forts and cities
in the shadow of a giant.
A bear of a man
– his friends called him Bully-
loud snores elevated
from his vinyl recliner
our war sounds a reminder.
Matchbox cars in play,
my brother and me,
with little green army men
their guns raised high above their heads.
We stormed the blue bottle castle as he slept.
The laughter of Korman and Conway
floating through the room.
He took us crawfishing once-
and to pick pecans.
He was Santa one early Christmas morning,
and I knew it.
But, I never knew what he liked to do,
or his favorite color, whether it was blue.
He built things,
but he tore them down too.
He helped Daddy build our carport,
but he was drunk most of the time,
so Dad sent him home.
He was just a big grandfather man
asleep in his vinyl chair again,
like a giant slumbering in his lair
in the mountains high above the cities fair
and fortresses of blue Mylanta.
I wrote this poem in 2006, and just recently found it again. I reworded a few lines to make it less prose-more-poem. Relationships are sometimes complicated. My grandfather passed away many years ago- just a few years after these memories. And I’ve found that I never really knew him. But I think of him often.