When you get to be my age, birthdays are really no big deal.
After all, I am well past most of the significant years, the ones that are generally remembered with celebrations. This year my age didn’t even end in a zero. Why then, did my weekend begin with such a feeling of disappointment? And why do I now feel the need to apologize to my spouse for the next 12 months?
Let me explain.
When the girls were living at home, birthdays here on the Hill were a pretty big deal. I always tried to make the day extraordinary for the recipient. We had many traditions that our family followed from year to year. They received a small morning gift before school, the faded “Happy Birthday” banner was brought out and hung in the kitchen on the night before the big day and there was a large family birthday celebration complete with the honored person’s favorite cake. They each had parties with friends invited on those extra special birthdays…5, 13 and 16. In a word, I tried to make the days memorable for them. Perfect. Over the top? Perhaps, but we really didn’t do much for them individually at any other time of the year, so it felt good to spoil them on this one day.
As a matter of fact, all of our birthdays were celebrated with a family dinner and a cake; even the adults. We usually had the get-togethers here – we had the space to spread out and it was much more convenient when our children younger – but even when we went out to a restaurant we usually returned here for the cake. Several years ago my father added his own little extra – he bought everyone one lottery ticket for each year of their presence on the planet. Each gift had a guaranteed minimum; he would buy any of the losing tickets back for the dollar it cost – but if the recipient actually won anything they got to keep the winnings as a bonus. The whole family would sit around the kitchen table after gifts and cake and scratch the tickets together. Unbelievably, there were never any big winners (even when my mother received 60+ tickets!), but we still enjoyed the ritual.
In the years since the children have left home and my mother has been gone, the lottery tickets have been replaced by single dollars, usually sent in the mail in a card, since everyone has moved far away. The big family gatherings have been less frequent. The year that I turned 50 I decided we needed to go to Mexico to celebrate, so there was no family gathering at all. It didn’t really bother me that year, so why did I feel so blue this year?
It has been said that I am difficult to surprise. This is true. It does seem that every time that someone tries…I figure it out. I definitely do not do it on purpose – I spoiled far too many Christmases when I was a child by searching for my gifts. I LOVE planning surprises, so I am always trying to think of new ones. There was the year that I bought my husband a dog, or sneaked my oldest home to be here for his birthday one summer. We even had a surprise “Sweet Sixteen” for our middle daughter at a beach bar in Mexico one year. I love to plan surprises – I am the official “planner” of the family – but I am inquisitive by nature, so I inadvertently stumble upon things. This does not keep me from hoping that one year they will “get me”.
This year my birthday fell on the weekend, so there was the possibility of something special. Since nobody had asked me what was happening that day, I was sure that there must be something brewing. I tried to ignore little things that I thought might be clues so as not to spoil any pending surprise. On the day before my birthday when family members began to ask me what I was doing on Saturday it became apparent that there was nothing in the works. I have to admit that I went to bed on Friday night feeling a bit disappointed. I felt sad that I wouldn’t be seeing my children. I had planned a lunch with my sister and my nephew, which was nice, but mostly it felt like my “big day” would be just another day.
I had overreacted the night before when I allowed myself to feel the way that I had. I do tend to always look forward to the next big thing, building it up in my mind to such a production that I am bound to be disappointed. I am always thinking “we could have”, or “I should have” instead of enjoying things just the way that they are right now.
When I came downstairs, I was met with a wonderful bouquet of flowers sitting on the kitchen table. As I was drinking my morning coffee my husband suggested that we take a drive. The little monster in my head immediately began to think…”sure…there is no real plan”, but I kept my composure and agreed. I called my sister to cancel our lunch (sorry Sis!), and we were off. As we were driving we started to discuss where we would actually go. We tossed around a few ideas, but since we were both starving we decided that lunch would be first on the agenda. We settled on the Melting Pot, which was located in a large mall just outside of Buffalo – about an hour and a half from home.
We enjoyed a wonderful meal and the two glasses of Pinot Grigio that I consumed (it was after 1PM, and it was my birthday, after all) definitely improved my outlook. Jim told the server that it was my birthday and we were enjoying a “spontaneous” day. She seemed impressed and congratulated us and he gave me a wink because he knows that I am not a particularly spontaneous person, but I played along.
We wandered around a bit and did a little shopping – an outfit for Fee and three pairs of work pants for Jim – before I had enough of the mall. After that we stopped at the Home and Garden show, hoping to find some inspiration for a few summer projects. It turned out to be a bit of a bust, but we did still find it amusing to watch all of the people.
It had been an easy and enjoyable afternoon and we were ready to go home and relax, but since the shopping in Buffalo had not produced any significant finds, I asked Jim if we could stop at TJ Maxx on the way home. It seems that I can always find something in this store and that day was no exception. I found a dog bed, some bath mats and a sweater. I ended up in the home decor section on my own and I found a wall sign that I liked. It said “I Love You More”, which is always my response when someone tells me that they love me.
When Jim came around the corner, I showed him the sign and told him that I thought I would buy it. He responded with “you don’t want that”. This annoyed me. Yes, I DID want it. It was my birthday and it wasn’t very expensive. I insisted. He said “Honey, you really don’t want that.” When I stared to object again he finally said to me “You actually already have it at home”. I was confused. I had never seen the sign before; how could I have it at home? Then it struck me. He had already purchased it for me – as a gift. I had spoiled the surprise, once again.
I put the sign back and we drove home laughing.
Once we got back home he disappeared for a few minutes and came back with not one, but several packages. As I opened them, I discovered that each one contained a small but meaningful gift. The sign, of course, and some oil and vinegar from a special shop in a little town that he passes when he is on the road. A magnet with a picture of a yellow lab, a wrought iron cross for my collection and a witches ball like the one that I have that was my mothers.
I felt like a real heel. He had actually been planning my birthday for days. In his own way. As I apologized for being such a brat (for the first time), he told me that he had wanted to make the day special just spending it with me.
I am lucky to have such a thoughtful caring guy…even if I don’t appreciate him enough. I have been blessed.
And my birthday?
It was perfect.
Today I am sad but excited.
I am excited because you are coming to visit Squirrel Hill for the second time. I am also sad because the reason that you are coming here is to pay tribute to your Great-Grandpa Ray. I have decided, however, that I am going to treat your visit home like a gift from him. He has allowed us all to be together for your first Thanksgiving, and that is a special thing!
You are now eight months old, and even though Poppa and I have met you two other times – when you were just a month and again this past summer when you were 5 months old – this time will be different because you have developed such a personality and we can interact so much more. You will be eating turkey and stuffing and crawling about the place. We hope that our Skype visits will help you to recognize us. It is hard to be a Gram when you live so far away. It will be nice to have the chance to spoil you a bit and perhaps even to give your Momma a break. We are very lucky to be having this visit, because we were not counting on seeing you until next summer.
Over your lifetime I am sure you will hear many things about your Great Grandpa Ray. He was the Grandpa extraordinaire; always quick with a song or a tune, I can hear him singing la la la la la to your Momma and your Aunts when they were little. He loved dogs and music and bubbles and children in general. He was sunshine personified, a happy and loving presence to all of his children and grandchildren. I believe that he was made to be Grandpa and we were so fortunate to have him as our very own. You met him last summer and although you will not remember it, meeting you was very special to him indeed. His face lit up every time he saw your pictures!
I just want to let you know how eager I am to be able to squeeze and cuddle you for the next several days. I can’t wait for you to explore this place on the hill – your family home. Your Poppa crawled around these floors when he was your age and it is pretty neat that he can watch you do the same in the place where his family has been all these years.
Thank you to your Great Grandpa for the many gifts he has given to us. I only hope that I can be half the Grandparent that he was!
See you soon!
As I said in my “About” section, we live in my husband’s family home, Squirrel Hill. I named the place when we moved in here in 1984. I felt at that time that any good country home needed a name and this one fit the bill for many reasons. There have been plenty of Squirrels on this hill for many years (both the furry brown kind, and the human ones as well). As my children can surely attest, I have often said that you need to be a bit “off “to live up here. I have had a love/hate relationship with the hill since I moved in.
When my in-laws bought the place in 1955 it had been uninhabited for several years. It was in need of quite a bit of TLC, and has and will be the source of many handyman projects for years to come. It had a wonderful view of Chautauqua Lake, much like this and still does, although the trees keep growing each year and it is getting smaller and smaller.
Jim and I have raised three daughters here. They have now all grown and (almost) all of them have left us here. Our oldest is married and lives in England with her husband and our only grandchild. The middle one has moved out to live the single life in Pittsburgh – just a short drive away for a weekend shopping trip! Our youngest is a college student in Cleveland, Ohio, presently doing a semester abroad in England a few hours away from her older sis.
So here we are….my spouse of 30 years and our menagerie, living and dreaming up on the hill. We have beautiful sunrises, aggravating winters and lovely summers. The house has has been here for over 50 years of our family’s growing and changing…from baby steps to graduation parties. From Summer 4th of July celebrations to Christmas mornings.
Follow along as we move into the next stages, and see what tomorrow will bring…