Well the day has finally arrived and I have rolled over the half century mark this morning at 12:06 AM and having made it this far I thought I would share some thoughts on this occasion. If this doesn’t flow the way my writing usually does, it’s because you’re reading a loose collection of jumbled thoughts, personal revelations and memories and not an essay….so first, a few points I want to make.
First of all, I’m seriously glad that I made it this far. So many of my friends and people I have known over the years did not get to celebrate this milestone and my first thoughts are of them and how I wish they were still here. I’m especially mindful of the fact that my father didn’t call me this morning to wish me a happy birthday for the first time in my life. Both of us would have celebrated milestone birthdays within a few weeks of each other and I would have enjoyed celebrating his 70th last month with him. I really missed that call today.
Second, I’m glad to be in good health, or at least I think I am. There are certain medical exams that go with reaching 50 that I’m not looking forward to but I guess it is part of that (hopefully) long rite of passage from youth to senior citizenship known as middle age. AARP has already been sending me junk mail, despite my supposedly being on the “no junk mail” list. While I know I could be healthier, I can’t blame anyone but myself.
Third, I’m very thankful, for a lot of things, that have added to and continue to add to the quality of my life each and every day. My family is one of those and even though it is a smaller than it used to be, I draw a lot of strength from those who share the same history and experiences with me, whether related by blood, marriage or choice. Friends are certainly another and you become more appreciative of them as you grow older, especially those that go way back to the days of playgrounds, learning the ABC’s and Sesame Street.
Birthdays have changed a lot for me over the years. I don’t remember much about them before the 1970’s but I do remember those that came during the years when a birthday was second in importance only to Christmas Day. The ones your parents spent time putting together, usually with some kind of loose theme like the Super Friends or some other related comic book superhero theme…those were especially memorable and the presents, usually toys related to the theme, were a high part of it all.
Bicycles were usually the next big thing. I remember one birthday getting to pick out a particularly hideous Schwinn Deluxe Stingray in “Kool Lemon” (translated: bright yellow) complete with a banana saddle seat, which I rode the wheels off of over the next few years. Next, it was electronics….tape players and cassettes for music, then a stereo component system complete with a dual tape deck and a record player.
Finally, it was my first car, which my father thoughtfully brought home for me two weeks before my birthday so I could stare at it every day while waiting until I could go take my driver’s test. That was the easiest two weeks in the life of that poor old car too.
Many things changed but some things did not as the years rolled on. Things I could always count on at birthday time included cards from my family and a cake my grandmother would make for me, almost always a lemon cake. Lemon cakes are still my favorites today and birthdays still make me think of her wonderful cakes. Sometimes my mother would make her lasagna, always a special treat, though she tended to do it more for my brother at his birthday than at mine…but she always did and continues to do a lot for me. I’m still her firstborn.
My grandparents from Jenkinsburg always took the entire family out for birthdays too, sometimes to a restaurant of their choosing but more often than not, to Falls View Restaurant near High Falls State Park, which had rooms that could accommodate our entire group. Because my mother’s birthday is the day after my own and my Aunt Charlotte’s was one week before mine, we almost always got bunched together but they were still special events that I always remember. Dinner always ended with my grandfather buying a bag full of York Peppermint Patties to dole out on the way home to all of us.
I also became a father in my 30’s and have enjoyed watching my son celebrate his most recent eleven birthdays, all while thinking about how different his are now than mine were then….or even how different mine are now than a decade ago. Ten years ago today, my grandmother called me on her landline telephone to tell me “Happy Birthday” for my 40th and I got a bunch of cards. This morning, my mother sent me a text message, decorated with all kinds of icons, for my 50th and I got over a 100 Facebook messages by noon. I hope to live until my son turns 50 so I can send him a Tweet from the moon when I’m 88 years old.
Birthdays are special because they give us an opportunity, not so much to reflect on what lies ahead or to reminisce on what is past but to take measure of where we are each year of our life. Big ones, like the ones that happen every ten years, are great stopping points along the way to look at where things are and hopefully make some course corrections if things are not going in the direction you thought they would be. You find yourself wondering if there will be time to do it all.
Mine began simply, like most days, with a cup of hot coffee and the newspaper, read on a digital device. Those simple pleasures may be common and an everyday occurrence to me but they are what I enjoy and getting bombarded with messages was a huge treat added to the experience.
Dad told me once that “life is not a race because the finish line is the end of the line” and I realize he is right. Why get in a hurry to get there? Driving a little slower and enjoying the view from the road a little more seems a much better way to to pace yourself and when you do get to that finish line, you probably won’t feel like you forgot a bunch of stuff on the way.
Now if I could just remember where I put my reading glasses…..