>Today is my birthday. It is an easy and popular day for births as it is 9 months after Christmas. Couple that with having been born in 1950 and it is very simple to know how old I am or how old I was in a particular year. My mother joked that she knew I would be mathematically challenged, and hence had the prescience to birth me in such a simple arithmetic year.
It seems birthdays, at the very least, should be etched or discernable in the haze of memory. But when I tried to do a mental rewind this week I found that very few commemorations of birth actually came up on my hard drive.
I wanted to find days I actually remembered, rather than seeing photographs and then allowing the murky emulsion to fuel and inform my memory. Like my first birthday with the Halloween theme and the incredible papier-mâché pumpkins adorning a long wooden table festooned with black and orange streamers. At least I imagine that was the color theme as the actual photo is black and white, well of course it was, the year was 1951.
After that what comes up is my 14th birthday. I was moody, probably hormonal. I hated, my mother, poor thing and my father was off running the press for the ill-fated Hubert Humphrey campaign. I received a telegram earlier from “ The Happy Warrior” the name of the campaign plane, and it was signed “HHH” it was followed by a small enameled blue pin with the same. I just found that pin tucked away in a box.
My mother made a poster, out of school project oaktag, it read: “Our 1964 Candidate for Happiness.” She turned her sewing room into a make-believe campaign headquarters with balloons and gifts and this poster. I entered and promptly ran off crying. I slammed out the kitchen door and ran up the hill to sob under some sugar maples in a dark night.
I recall that when I returned home having used tears to calm me, neither my mom nor my brother made a fuss about my fuss and then the memory curtain fades until. . . .
My 26th birthday. This is what my family calls a magic birthday, because you turn your age on the date of your birth. So 26 on the 26th.
I was working on the Bicentennial Barge, a strange floating museum that had been created to commemorate this country’s 200th birthday. I was in thrall with the equally young,
curly-headed public relations guy and we were moving the Barge to its next location when a giant storm blew up. Hurricane conditions and a group of young bone-heads moving a 200-foot barge in the dark of night across Long Island Sound. The crew was professional, at least, and they instructed us to lash ourselves to the bow of the boat and we were each given axes and told if the boat started to go down to cut ourselves free. Hell, it was my birthday. How many people are born and die on the same day? It seemed statistically comforting.
We finally made it into Port Jefferson, where the object of my crush was met with his FIANCE breathlessly hugging him while he looked sheepishly toward me. We had shared a number of trysts during our time in port, as sailors do I suppose, and mention of this woman just never came up.
I took the train home to my little West Village apartment; I was alone, wet and overjoyed to be alive. I ate a tuna sandwich over the sink and it still seems a stellar birthday feast.
40 I was the head of a new theater company and had two little kids, 2ish and six. And as I had been the Director of Special Projects for the City of NY for so many years, a job that entailed overseeing many gigantic fireworks displays, and had become friends with the Grucci family, the premier American fireworks family. So as a thank you, I guess now it might be seen as a kickback, but since I had no more work to give them I prefer to see it as THANKS alone. So as thanks, the Gruccis gave me a fireworks display down in what is now Battery Park City. It was billed as a benefit for my new theater company, but many folks knew it was my 4th decade too.
It was 1990 it must have been one of the last displays downtown, still on land, as there was open space to be had. Amazing, my kids were there ogling the lights, I danced with friends and had a chuckle when the next day in the school yard I heard the parents and teachers wondering why there was such a big display when there seemed to be no holiday or occasion. A wonderful secret to relish.
Half way thru the ride, 50 I decided NOT to have a party I had married a love of a man a few years earlier and we had a great big bash. My kids were getting bigger and I wanted a different kind of day. So I sent out a letters, emails or postcards to friends, family and co-workers who spanned decades. I asked them to send me their favorite memory of me. I asked that it come on my birthday or as close as possible, and that it be hand written. Well 96 crazy, unique memories and images came to me. They came by fax and post and fed ex and by hand. They came with flowers or giftys and they trickled in nearly all year.
We were supposed to go out for a fancy dinner, but Willi, my teenage daughter, was sick so we ordered Chinese food and ate home. It felt perfect. And it had nothing to do with what I had imagined or expected and being open to that was remarkable.
Last year 56. My kids were both away for the first time Willi on a trip to in Brazil, Henry a freshman at college and even my husband, Zac, was traveling; so I was alone. I wasn’t sad about it just quiet.
I got an invitation to go sailing with my first major boy friend on his wooden boat and he brought champagne and a friend for propriety. It was a soft, magical night. Wind whipping, me a little woozy, leaves changing and blurring on the shore, all kinds of memories shared and just clean kindness.
And now today 57, writing, lots of love, feeding birds, about to detach and play tennis. Dinner planned late with my girl and her lovely new man and perhaps calls, or messages from my son flung to Scotland for a working semester.
Memory sticks or fades in unfathomable ways; in fact its very ephemeral nature is what draws me. We can’t make memories, they choose us, which is why when they stick and revisit us we need to welcome the visit.