This past week, birthdays have been on my mind, since I just had the last one of my sixties and now look forward to beginning my seventieth year. That's a lot of birthdays. Funny how few of them I remember, but I guess that's true for all of us: unless something causes it to stand out, all the days of our lives blend together in memory. The only birthday I remember as a kid was my tenth.
In 1952, Mama was only 29 and had borne three children, all girls. Daddy was 35 and an officer in the Air Force, stationed at Fairfield Air Force Base in California. I have very little recollection of their relationship. It was invisible to me as I grew up, which must be a good sign. No childhood memories of fights or discord. But it must have been there, since Daddy liked to drink and as an adult, I know it marred much of their happiness. Mama drank, too, but I think it was because she wanted to join Daddy in his activities and grew to like it.
The Officers' Club had Monte Carlo Night every once in awhile, and on December 1st of that year, Daddy didn't come home. He was supposed to bring a present for me and just simply never came home. Instead, he went to gamble at the Officers' Club and probably drank way too much. The only reason I know this is that Mama was distraught and told me where Daddy was, that he had forgotten it was my birthday. We waited and waited for him to arrive, but he never did. No present for me, and I cried when I went to bed because I had been forgotten by Daddy. Mama was furious at him, that much I remember, which didn't make me feel any better. I was filled with grief, which is one reason it sticks in my mind.
And then he came home. I could hear them talking in the living room, Mama's angry accusations and Daddy's voice, low and remorseful, I suspect. It couldn't have been terribly late, because I was still awake, and then Daddy came into my bedroom. He sat down beside me on my bed and told me how sorry he was that he had forgotten my birthday. I'm sure he told me many things, but the only thing that stands out in my memory was that now I was older, ten to be exact, and life was going to hand me some sad times as well as good ones. I was grown up enough to be able to handle that, to get used to facing trials and tribulations. I can still hear the sound of his soothing voice when I think of the memory. He didn't hurry, he took his time.
I have no memory of what I did with that money, although I'm pretty sure I spent it on trinkets. In those days, silver coins were 90% silver, and they would have been worth a great deal by now. I have never been a saver. But looking back on all my birthdays, that is the one I remember the most. Probably because of the emotional roller coaster of the day, and the happy ending. It was indeed a happy birthday after all.
And now, today, I think fondly of my parents back then, their relationship, especially their love for one another. They were married for almost forty years by the time Daddy died of a heart attack at 62. Now I'm older than he ever was, and Mama died a few months before she would have turned 70. She never stopped missing him all those years she was without him, and it gives me comfort to think of them being together again, if such a thing is what happens when we die. I won't know until it's my turn, will I? Until then, I am entitled to their imagined reunion.
As is my habit, it's still dark and my partner is sleeping lightly next to me as I write on my laptop. We didn't meet until we were both 50, but now that has been almost twenty years ago. The two of us are unlikely life partners, and I believe it is nothing short of a miracle that we met and married. As he has said before, we didn't so much meet as collide. That collision changed the way I think about life. It's so much better than I could ever have imagined.