“But now I am Sixty, I’m as clever as clever, So I think I’ll be sixty…forever and ever.” (with apologies to AA Milne) by (3 Stories)

Prompted By Special Birthdays

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All birthdays should be special. What constitutes “special” may vary from person to person. For me, it means a day made memorable by an out-of-the-ordinary experience, a surprise best wishes or visit from a long ago friend, or a gift that showed the giver “got” me. One of the best birthday gifts I ever gave my father, a physician, was a salami dressed as a doctor, complete with a tiny stethoscope. Definitely memorable. He kept Dr. Salami until it succumbed to mold.

I must confess I am a birthday girl who is hard to please. I am good at hiding disappointment with a nice meal out, a book from someone’s bestseller list, or pajamas I will never wear. I am always expecting the unexpected. Until my 60th, my last very special birthday was at age12 when my mother threw me a beatnik party where everyone dressed as Jack Kerouac or Denise Levertov and the centerpiece was a car tire wrapped in brown paper to resemble a giant doughnut. Not to say there haven’t been special moments over the years; a homemade birthday cake with purple icing and sparkly stars during a particularly bleak pandemic year, a hydroponic gizmo to grow herbs during the dark days of a New England winter, and the mix master with a dough hook that I had wanted for years. And let’s not forget the limo ride to a very nice restaurant to celebrate my 50th. I am not a complete ingrate. But nothing even made the Richter scale as earth shaking birthdays.

When the time for my 60th came around, I decided to be proactive and take matters into my own hands. I had tried this once before when I turned 40. Leaving my husband and 2-year old son behind, I strapped my seven month old baby into his car seat and hit the open road to Rockport MA for a birthday adventure. Visions of sitting by a crackling fire in a rocking chair with my sweet boy sleeping on my lap, having a quiet dinner in a family-run restaurant, and then spending the next day roaming the shops of Bear Neck, culminating in a freshly cooked lobster by the sea filled my head as I drove north under an ever darkening, rain-filled sky. My adventure had begun, but with increasingly ominous overtones. Rather than the quintessential New England inn, the bed and breakfast closely resembled Ma Perkins’ house in Psycho. No shower for me. The fact that we were the only guests, reminded me that April in New England isn’t exactly tourist season. After a quick call to my husband to reassure him, in a high squeaky unnatural voice, that we were fine, we strolled to the family-run restaurant. The fact that April is not tourist season was reaffirmed by the suspicious stares from the local diners as we made our way to the table. These stares turned downright hostile when baby Huw, uncharacteristically, began to howl ceaselessly. Packing up our food, we returned to the inn and dined behind a locked door barricaded by a chest of drawers, just to be sure. The next day dawned cold and rainy (April in New England). With few shops open and not a lobster, freshly cooked or otherwise, to be found (April in you know where) we set out for home. A memorable and (unfortunately) unforgettable birthday.

Twenty years later, I was older and wiser. My 60th birthday was going to be the birthday of my dreams. And it was. I got a tattoo, drove an F1 racecar, and announced ROADTRIP to my family. With maps and massive amounts of information from AAA, my husband, two sons, and I went South, the only sensible direction to go from New England in April. The goal was to visit as many minor league baseball parks in Virginia, North and South Carolina as we could and to don shorts and T-shirts while New England still shivered in its pseudo-spring. We ate Krispy Kreme donuts whenever we found them, hiked through acres of wildflowers in meadows while being lost on back roads, sat with a sun wizened farmer in a well-worn John Deere cap as he relived the days when the large coarse foliage of tobacco plants covered the fields filling the air with a sweet fragrance, and cheered on the young players as they played ball with enthusiasm, energy, and hopes of making the “Bigs” one day. A birthday planned by me met all my expectations. Rounding out this perfect birthday was the totally unexpected, a surprise party arranged by my husband, a man who can barely plan what socks to wear, much less organize and execute a secret party with dozens of friends, family, and colleagues. I think, 14 years later, he is still recovering.

So, in terms of birthdays, I think I’ll be 60 forever and ever.


Profile photo of Jacqueline Miller Jacqueline Miller

Characterizations: right on!, well written


  1. Suzy says:

    Jackie, I love this story! I too am a birthday girl who is hard to please, and often have the best time when I plan the celebration myself. I do love your mother’s clever idea of a beatnik party for your 12th birthday. And your description of your 40th, while it may have been horrifying at the time, made me laugh out loud, because (ahem) in retrospect it is pretty funny.

    Glad that your 60th was the birthday of your dreams. I had that with my 50th, which I also planned myself, as you will see from my story.

    • Thanks, Suzy. I am very happy when something I write causes a reader to laugh out loud (only, of course, when that is an intended outcome of the writing). I have learned from experience that many events that seem horrifying or embarrassing at the time are often pretty funny days, months or years later. And do make for good storytelling. Lesson learned – don’t wait for others to plan, just do it yourself.

  2. Marian says:

    You have given us the good, bad, and ugly of birthdays in this terrific story. I can only imagine the hostile stares of the locals in that restaurant for your 40th. And kudos to your husband for his organizational efforts when they clearly weren’t in his wheelhouse. So glad you enjoy that 60th!

  3. Jacqueline, welcome to Retro, glad to see your 2nd story!

    Not an outdoorsy girl myself , I’m in awe of your fortitude and your adventurous spirit in planning unusual birthday celebrations! Keep us posted about your next one and I hope there’ll be lobster!

    • Thanks, Dana. I may have to wait for lobster prices to drop significantly but there will be lobster in my future. Meanwhile I am mastering the cooking art of pseudo crab cakes made with tilapia. Inflation is the mother of invention.

  4. John Shutkin says:

    What a wonderfully evocative and beautifully told story!

    Where to begin? Well, with your (obviously) amazingly creative parents. Why did I not ever have a beatnik party — perhaps festooned with Maynard G. Krebs posters — or think of giving my father, also a physician, a Dr. Salami for him to cherish?

    As to your 40th birthday, its horrors are brilliantly told. But, as you pointed out, and cleverly reiterated, any New Englander knows what April in New England is like. You should have had my birthday in August.

    And the 60th party was sheer genius on your part, especially to a baseball fan like me. Indeed, I plan to stay in New England and check out the WooSox this summer, maybe even for my birthday. (I just checked the schedule and they are playing the Durham Bulls — presumably minus Kevin Costner — at home on that day.)

    Thanks so much for sharing, and being part of Retro.

    • Thank you for your comments and, especially for reminding me about our exPawSox. What a name letdown – WooSox?? – Oh well. I will definitely check the summer schedule. To assuage our feelings of baseball loss during the pandemic we watched every Kevin Costner baseball movie we could find, enjoying Bull Durham at least twice. Maybe I’ll see you at the August game!

  5. Laurie Levy says:

    A great story about a truly memorable birthday. The gift thing is tricky, but since I have never returned a gift given to me by a loved one, I have tons of “interesting” jewelry, framed sayings, books, and commemorative t-shirts. For me, the best gifts are cards from my children and grandchildren that are home-made or personalized. I have a special box for those.

    • I also have a box where I store cards from whoever remembers to send one. I love to reread them years later. A favorite family story re: birthday cards is how my father never dated his birthday card he gave my mother. That way he could send the same card year after year, thereby always having a card on hand and saving money. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  6. Betsy Pfau says:

    “April in New England”…I live just outside of Boston, so I understand entirely. When my kids were young, we would do Rockport as a day trip, wandering around the shops of Bear Neck. But NEVER in April! I have great empathy for your vivid description of that rainy 40th birthday adventure.

    I am intrigued by some of the other birthdays you describe – the beatnik party your mother gave you with the car tire as a center piece. That sounds interesting, inventive and quite sophisticated for 12 year olds.

    But truly, your 60th takes the cake! What a wonderful experience all around, the long road trip with family, seeing the minor league teams, talking to the old-timer with his John Deere hat (I love the sensuality recalled of smelling the tobacco crop in the field). But best of all – the surprise of your friends showing up for your surprise party; a wonderful accomplishment from your husband and a great treat for you. Yes, stay 60 forever!

  7. Khati Hendry says:

    Great stories—I was astounded you knew who Jack Kerouac and Denise Levertov were when you were twelve, let alone have a whole beatnik theme! The April story made me laugh because I took a spring trip to Iceland in April (yes, April) with far more ice than I had expected. Now that you have decided to make your own birthday plans, I hope you will never be disappointed again.

  8. Susan Bennet says:

    Hello Jacqueline, your sixtieth as you describe it was a home run.
    It’s almost as fun reading about it as doing it myself (who am I kidding?). I will chime in with the other Bostons here, beach towns in April can be dreary indeed. Loved your description of your sketchy inn. Great story!

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