She was a middle child of six, and in those years when birthdays took on real significance, she would wonder, how will they do at making it special for me? Am I special? Do they know me, and what I like? Not consciously asked, though, not then.
At the approach of her forty-eighth birthday she still wonders. Only as regards close family, however–others are exempt, and from them remembrances and gifts are sheer grace. She knows how calendar items get lost in the translation and from one year to the next. She has noticed no special activities, no secretiveness, and no meetings cancelled. Also it has been someone else’s birthday week, and there are loose ends to tie up–returning the items not sufficiently on sale, awaiting the items ordered on inspiration that came a little late.
Will someone buy this or that for her, she wonders–the thing she helpfully named when asked what she wanted? Only as a practical consideration now–something she planned to pick up anyway, something above the level of new spatulas, but still useful and timely. She does not expect the perfect surprise personal gift, but hopes they will remember she prefers wild picked to store bought flowers, and make a special effort at chores.
Early June–it was a good time for a birthday party with her school friends, when the ground was dry and the peonies blooming. Time was when there was no bus that went all the way home, and her mother did not drive. And so on the way to meet the school children tumbling forth at the drop off point from the diesel-fume-engulfed orange Bluebird bus, her mother hid prizes alongside the gravel road, a treasure hunt for the mile walk home. She remembers yarn dolls, candy, and the surge of children darting ahead in turns to search the grassy shoulders of the red road on either side. Mother busy bringing out treats, everyone taking turns working the crank of the ice cream maker, and never enough of the sweet, creamy melting dollops on chocolate cake. At twelve there were boys too, and one won her mother’s heart by putting an ice cube down her neck.
At twenty she was with people she hardly knew, starting a cultural exchange program, learning French from Paul-Andre and Andre, and when she found out the farewell was kisses on both cheeks and on the lips too, she went through the line twice.
On her fortieth birthday, to save everyone the trouble, she threw herself a party in a wooded clearing, with a bonfire, games among the trees, children playing with sticks and sand and skinning their knees, adult friends mingling in their beautiful variety, eating from paper plates which later heated coals for marshmallow roasting as the sun went down and the stringed instruments were brought out.
She sees that this is a lull phase of birthday celebration–everyone tired and Monday is the wrong day–a work day, a school day, rain clouds rolling in and the errands and landscaping still to do. She’s comfortable, in her attitude of low expectation, and knows she’ll not be disappointed..