I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Birthdays

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.

Then he put ten silver dollars on my bedstand, piled one on top of the other. In those days, silver dollars were BIG, and I remember my eyes got big, too, as I stared at what seemed to me to be a fortune! He told me that this is my birthday present: a silver dollar for each year of my life. When he left the room, I picked them up and felt them, then went to sleep with the silver dollars right on the edge of the bedstand so I could see them first thing when I awoke.

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.

23 comments:

CiCi said...

Remembering the relationship between your mother and father must give you some things to incorporate into your own relationship. Your tenth birthday turned out to be a beginning for you to face things and deal with them.

It is a mystery what really happens when we die. Do we see people we knew in this life and do we recognize them? Like you say, we don't know yet.

It is interesting how we go through life changes. Right now I am wading through the stagnant waters of mixed feelings as my marriage is ending and yet I am happy for those who are in stronger relationships.

Mel said...

A wonderful birthday memory! Those silver dollars are huge - Dad collected interesting money and gave it to the grandkids on birthdays too. I always traded it out for regular money and keep the interesting ones in a safe place for someday.

Isn't it interesting how many of our days slip away in our memories? Sometimes I wish I could remember more, but my brain is too full already.

I smiled to read you describe your collision with your husband, as those words could mostly describe my relationship with my husband as well. Unlikely pairing, but 28 years later, here we are, still happy together. I can't say that about many other people I know.
I hope your birthday was lovely, and wish you a happy, memorable year.

Rita said...

I never gave it much thought until you brought it up. I don't remember my birthdays. We didn't make a big deal of them in the first place. They were kind of an afterthought to my mother. We never had parties with kids over. But I didn't have anything bad happen on one, or I would remember that...like you do. So they were benign memories...like Christmases. Oddly, with as much discord as we could have in the house between my folks, they loved Christmas and it was the best time of the year with minor bickering. Probably why I LOVE the holidays. ;)

How wonderful that your parents were pretty darn happy, it seems. And that you collided with your sweet partner and are pretty darn happy, too. I have never been lucky in love, but I am always extra happy for people who are. Bless you both!! :):)

PS Yes! Silver dollars were huge!! ;)

Grandmother said...

It's one of the gifts of love that we get to see the world in a whole different way than we can alone. And get to discover it's even better! How blessed we are.

Linda Myers said...

What I remember about my birthdays is that my sister was born on my 7th one and thereafter we shared them all, for better or for worse.

I would never have picked my second husband on my own - I view it as a higher power with a sense of humor gifting him to me. We've been together for almost 20 years and I have few regrets. My life is much more interesting than I would have expected.

HOOTIN' ANNI said...

What a heartfelt, bittersweet, memory of your 10 silver dollars!! And you and your hubby 'colliding' late in life to not only adore, live and love...I'm sure you cherish each and every day beside him.

LOVED this post.

My Sunday Blog post link is: If a Tree Falls in the Swamp -do you hear it?

Hope you're having a glorious day!!

gigihawaii said...

I wish my parents had such a good relationship as your parents. My mother was subservient to my father, so there was very little fighting, if at all. But, that doesn't mean my mother was happy. Nuff said.

Rubye Jack said...

Happy Birthday DJan!

I'd never really thought about it but I really don't remember my birthdays either and we always had parties. I can imagine what it must have been like to have those ten shiny silver dollars. How cool that was.

#1Nana said...

You've got me thinking about memory and how random our recollections are. Sometimes I'm amazed at the things that my children think they remember and I wonder how much of my memory is accurate. When I write a memory piece for my blog, my Dad always emails me with corrections.

I hope you had a wonderful birthday, but then every year is a gift, isn't it?

Linda Reeder said...

First, I guess I missed your birthday! Belated Birthday Wishes!
Then, this is a beautiful post. You are such a good story teller, and my mind movie was working away to recreate the scenes you wrote about. My parents fought a lot in my early years. My father was a drinker, too, and could blow the weeks paycheck having a good time. My mother had to try to make ends meet, pay the bills and put food on the table for a whole passel of kids. And yet, when Dad was gone, my mother missed him terribly. You never really know about other's relationships.

Beth said...

A very happy belated birthday wish for you.

I only remember a few of my birthdays as a child. I had 7 siblings so the most I could hope for was something special to eat. I had an aunt by marriage that baked me a birthday cake each year until she and my uncle were divorced and that was the end of the cakes.

Gigi said...

Happy Birthday, DJan! I loved this post as I've been kinda mired in memories today....or should I say I've been "trying" to recollect some memories that I know should be there.

After that description, I would love to hear how you and your husband met....sounds interesting.

gayle said...

Happy Birthday! I so enjoyed reading about your 10th one. Glad it turned out happy in the end. You are a beautiful writer!

Red said...

Many times these sad stories have no end. They just go on and get worse. Fortunately yours had a much better outcome.
It's funny thing about birthdays. You made me stop and think. I don't remember any particular birthdays...not eighteen or twenty-one...only the last one.

Retired English Teacher said...

This post brings to mind how complicated relationships can be. Your father was not perfect, nor was mine, but he certainly did right by you in the end. I wonder what you did with the money. I wonder why he chose that gift. This gift made a priceless memory.

I hope your birthdays only keep getting better and better.

Sandi said...

This was a wonderful story. I loved the warmth I felt, from the telling, and just the way you described your parents relationship. Despite the drinking at times, it is obvious you had a stable and loving upbringing.

Our parents all made mistakes, just as we did, or will, as parents. It isn't the mistakes that matter so much as the lesson learned. You learned through your dad to confess your mistakes, ask forgiveness, and demonstrate love and affection. What a huge gift that was.

I used to have some of those old silver dollars, too. I probably spent them for cigarettes when I was just out of high school and broke all the time. If we only knew then what we know now . . . there wouldn't be much to learn, huh??

Great post, and thank you for your kind and compassionate comments on my recent posts. I seem to be dredging up a lot of memories lately, but I'm feeling ok, and once I write about them, I'm feeling more healed. I guess that's a good thing.

Dee Ready said...

Dear DJan,
This post touched me deeply and I find myself feeling a deep contentment and joy for you. You have just celebrated an important birthday and you now look back and see milestones. You find great love in your heart for your parents as you embrace this memory of your 10th birthday.

For me, that is one of the gifts of aging--being able to look back over a greater span of life and to see that all has worked out unto good. I'm so glad for that collision of twenty years ago!

Peace.

Elisabeth Hirsch said...

You write so beautifully. I couldn't stop reading this for even a moment. The way you describe your parents and that birthday--amazing.

I also love the way you ended this. It sounds like you found your soul mate ;)

CrazyCris said...

It's funny the things we remember and the things we forget... but I think strong emotional moments stay with us, like for your birthday.

I always look forward to your Sunday posts DJan! You share such inspiring stories and meaningful memories, I feel privileged to read them.

Friko said...

As always, a gentle reminder of times past and a lovely way of incorporating it into your life today.

Whatever your parents were to each other they obviously gave you the love that helps you to hold your own life together, in spite of deep hrt and tragedy.

A sweet post.

Robert the Skeptic said...

I have managed to outlive both of my parents as well. Cancer took both of them though my childhood was tumultuous as my father was an alcoholic.

My wife and I are each on our second marriages, starting our 27th year.

glendabeall said...

I loved this post, DJan. Your writing is touching as you remember that special birthday.
When I look back on my father's life, I see him with a different perspective now than when I was younger. Aging brings experience that helps us look back with new eyes and often forgiveness.

PJ Merrill said...

My dear sister (yep..another one). I just read this post and I always love how you bring back memories of Mom and Dad. I just spoke to you this morning after your break-in. I am so sorry and saddened there are people that cause so much pain for others. But on the other side of the spectrum, I read of all the loving support from your online 'network' and it makes my heart glad. Much love to you!

PJ