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.