It was my birthday yesterday. I was at the lake with my old pal from camp days who came to see me from her home in Swarthmore.
Bobbie was the counselor of my cabin for three summers running when I was 13, 14, and 15. She taught swimming and wore the baggy sweatshirts and the skin-tight Bermudas of the times over her two-piece bathing suits. Some nights after Taps she got to ride the ten miles to McDonald’s with the other counselors who were also “off” and came back two hours later and woke us up to give us flat little cheeseburgers and soggy sacks of fries which, coupled with extra-thick shakes made of honest-to-goodness ice cream, were about the best thing a person could imagine tasting at 11 at night.
Bobbie comes up at least once a year and I go to her house in Swarthmore.
This time she came to our vacation house at the lake where we all like to go in winter when we want to see what it’s like to be eyeball-deep in snow.
Early on this morning of my birthday I was stilled holed up in my bedroom writing when the phone rang. It was my big sister Nan who for the last 20 years has greeted me on this day by saying “Happy Birthday, Little Wormhead!” We talked a while and she made me laugh as usual and by the time I hung up I felt so great I popped open a screen and wrote an email that went to all three of my kids at once and also their dad my husband holding the fort back home. “It’s my birthday!” I wrote, and “No need to call!” and “Drop me a line!” and other such annoying and typically maternal mixed messages.
My middle child did call, halfway through the day. My oldest child later sent an email saying among other things that she thought I should quit writing a column and just blog full time. And at 7 at night my youngest kid, who leads the glamorous semi-poverty-stricken life of all young people living in New York City, texted me. He said he really enjoyed all the typos in my email, especially at the end where I tried to sign it “A girl who expects to be around for another 30 years,” but so mangled ‘girl’ that Word mistook my intent, did that blindingly fast mid-air correction that Word is famous for and wrote “grill” instead. My son’s message in brief: that you had to love any grille with THAT kind of durability.
Someplace in there Bobbie and I went food-shopping and I overheard two young guys stocking the shelves. “No no, anyone can go to the frat party,” one was saying to the other. “You just have to bring two girls with you to get in.” An older man and I both heard this and traded that special smile, three parts delight and one part rue that the young always elicit in us the no-longer-young.
Bobbie bought us a special New Zealand wine that the guy at the liquor store said was famous for its grapefuity flavor and we stopped in at an antique store where for 20 bucks I got a beautiful bowl to set fresh flowers in. Then we walked two miles just for fun and I holed up again to write some more.
It was then that Dodson called. Dodson “became” our oldest child when he joined our family as a 15-year-old freshman at Winchester High, in our town’s chapter of A Better Chance. He was tiny then, the shortest kid in the school but he isn’t tiny now. Here he is with me nowadays, all grown up and remember, a mere click blows this way up:
Anyway he called together with darling tiny Veronica of Buenos Aires by way of Sarasota Florida whom he married last March.
As I raced to finish my column Old Dave called to say that yes the cats were fine and he was just fooling around with the taxes and I should cozy up and have fun with Bobbie – who really capped off the day by making me a wonderful dinner to go with our New Zealand wine, a recipe involving lentils and tarragon, chopped-up bacon and a fried egg of all things and for dessert a homemade fruit compote with Crème Anglaise on top.
And we ended the night watching ancient home movies from our days at Camp Fernwood, movies in which Bobbie and Nan are seen to be dominating the Track and Field events with their long, long legs. Nan and I, we went to that camp through all of our young lives because our mother and aunt were the directors there. Our mother had in fact taken all these movies.
Oddly enough the movies inched backward in time. Here we were one minute at 12 and 14 doing the Long Jump and practicing at Archery and now suddenly here I was only one while Nan was three. And then those scenes gave way to a wavery color film of Mom’s wedding day in 1946 when such a blizzard blew in that that the photographer never got to the event at all.
Somebody with a movie camera did though and these images are all we have of our father, who was Gone Baby Gone not two years down the line. I never saw what the man even looked like ’til I saw this movie, as a woman grown.
It’s funny though: it wasn’t his face I couldn’t take my eyes off as this very nice birthday drew to a close; it was Mom’s. She was 38 years old. She never thought she’d marry, but she did and had the two of us and almost 40 years later – the last time we saw this very in fact – she laughed and said to us, “Be careful what you pray for girls! I wanted children! I never prayed for a man!”
I thought about my mother, now 20 years in her little grave. She gave me life and she stuck around to help me live it, guiding me through the vain, wildly fibbing, self-centered years to land me here, still feeling about 12 in more ways than I care to admit. Here, on this far shore of 59, where last night I watched large clouds sweep in out of nowhere and in one quick swipe like some angry teacher erase that lovely moon, so lately full and moist and brilliant.