Friday, September 7, 2012

Days, not birthdays

On Life’s Terms


By JOELLEN COLLINS

My family has many late-summer, early-fall birthdays, so when mine came up a couple of weeks ago, I realized I had been blasé about it. After all, I’m not celebrating a milestone birthday, like turning 21, nor do I make a big fuss about a ritual that reminds me of the swift passage of time. I’m just glad I’m waking up without drooling (today, anyway). Nonetheless, I had a wonderful birthday this year, and lessons from it I wish to share.

My first lesson was that I should not assume there would be no celebration because of my age. I had coffee the morning of Aug. 22 with a new friend, one who will continue to have my trust. Then, to my surprise, my daughters and their husbands gave me a luxury item for my kitchen that I had long desired but thought silly since my disposable income is minimal and since I don’t need any more gadgets. I intend to simplify and forego anything extraneous. Oh, though, the joy I am experiencing each day when I get fresh foam and a rich coffee from my Nespresso! Today I sat outside on my small deck and enjoyed the evocative taste and smell of coffee (my Swedish mother had a pot going every morning) and dove into a book I somehow missed, Frank McCourt’s “Teacher Man,” which is inspiring me to write a memoir about my own teaching experiences, though, lacking McCourt’s storytelling, I may be the only person ever to read it. I thank my family for honoring this teeny need for luxury still in my soul.

I also received my every-year gift from Jola, my best friend since 10th grade. She never, ever, forgets to have something for me to open on the big day (with the admonishment, “Do not open till August 22nd”—as if I would.) Along with other gifts, she included a bottle of bath oil wrapped in a copy of a Nora Ephron piece written sometime before she died. I read it in my bath that night, soaking in the lavish oil, and came to a sentence late in the article that mentioned that one thing she would always do for herself, amid the irritants incumbent with aging, was to indulge in a warm bath every night with—you guessed it—the very oil I had just opened. In all of my generous impulses, I wouldn’t have thought of that. So I shared an experience with one of my idols and relaxed. When I turned 40, J and J had 40 postcards sent to me from all over the world, with statements like “Je suis desole sans JoEllen.” My postman was amazed. 

Last year I announced my birthday to fellow singers in the Caritas Chorale, because everyone who would ordinarily have celebrated it with me was gone, and I heard one of the most rousing and rich renditions of “Happy Birthday” ever. This year I was a bit more modest and didn’t publicly announce my day, but early in the morning I received a call from my 3-year-old grandson Arthur singing me his version of the celebratory song ... more precious than anything; other sentimental grannies will understand. Then came my annual call from Jola and her husband, John, ... always including my childhood nickname, “Bitsy.” They still tease me with that appellation, probably because I remember my mother’s fear that this nickname could appear on a name tag pinned to my uniform in a diner on Route 66—she worried I’d grow up to weigh 350 pounds! So every year I get an affectionate laugh to start my day.

In the evening, I went with a dear friend I have known since we shared our toddlers, and enjoyed an exquisite dinner at my daughter and son-in law’s restaurant. When the staff presented me with a dessert and song, I acted like it made me nervous, but it didn’t. Caritas it wasn’t, but sweet and rewarding it was.

On her recent birthday my grandson called my daughter Jolie. Afterwards, Arthur asked his mother if his Aunty Jolie also was going to enjoy a bouncy house on her birthday, as he had on his.

If I had a bouncy house near, I would leap into it with the aplomb of a 3-year-old and be a happy child in that moment. There’s the best lesson. Just enjoy every last second while you can. I am bouncing even now!




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