Five Birthdays

We had a lovely birthday celebration with the family last night.  Even my parents drove up from Madera, this being the first time they’ve visited since we moved here at the end of September.  Our little grandniece, who didn’t seem to know what to think of so many people showing up in our living room, ran amok with excitement, showing off her dancing skills and basking in the attention that comes from being fawned over by her grandmother, great-grandmother, aunts and uncles.  The experience wouldn’t have been complete without her dumping something over (why should this day be different than any other day?), and when my nephew opened a large bag of chips, they were all over the carpet in less than five minutes.  Out came the vacuum cleaner.  We love our Dyson!

So, this is what it’s like to be 55.  It doesn’t seem possible.  Someone’s cigar-smoking grandpa is 55, not me.  Other than my physical limitations, I still feel like a teenager.

My wife and I are fortunate; we both look much younger than one would expect based on our chronological ages.  In my case, I think that having been obese since childhood and having extremely pale skin has helped promote the illusion of youth.  Until I was past the age of thirty, I was still able to pass for a minor, particularly if I looked sufficiently disheveled and sported a baseball cap worn backwards.

At the party, my parents reminded me that I am now officially a senior citizen.  I now qualify for the senior discount at restaurants.  Well, not so much anymore, I pointed out.  Many businesses require proof that you are 60 or 65 years old before they’ll grant the 5% off or whatever paltry discount they offer to seniors.  Although I don’t feel any different, reaching 55 is the sort of milestone that inspires thoughts of one’s mortality, a new appreciation for the dwindling number of grains in the hour glass.  True, we may not have as much ahead of us as we used to, but we have a rich legacy of experiences behind us that we have the opportunity to share with others.  Or, from the perspective of the younger generation, we have an infinite stock of boring stories to tell while they roll their eyes in exasperation.

The ghost of birthdays past paid me a visit, bringing along a stock of memories of celebrations of days gone by.

20.  On my twentieth birthday, I was still slogging my way through college, just starting the spring semester of my junior year.  I was on academic probation, having come very close to flunking out.  It wasn’t that I couldn’t do the work; it’s just that things other than the classroom had attracted my attention.  I was an editor of a well-respected student newspaper, an endeavor that occupied most of my time.  Not only did this interest me far more than my studies, but it gave me an excuse to spend most of my time away from the ubiquitous cloud of pot smoke that surrounded the bozos with whom I was forced to live.

To celebrate the occasion, my parents and youngest sister made the 2½ hour trip up to see me on a Sunday.  My other sister was at the same school with me (she was a freshman).  All of us went out to dinner at Red Lobster.  Little Sis, a high school sophomore who was really catching on to this cooking thing, baked me a wonderful chocolate cake with chocolate frosting and a stripe of heavenly chocolate goo between the two layers.  I still remember that she presented it to me on a pretty forest green plate that had graced my parents’ kitchen for a couple of decades.

30.  My family arranged quite the party for me on my thirtieth birthday.  I was a few months away from completing graduate school in Massachusetts.  The party was hosted by my sister and her husband at their condo a few miles outside of Albany, New York.  A number of my friends from grad school made the trek from New England along with their significant others.  Sis of chocolate cake fame was now a wizard in the kitchen, and her husband possibly even more so.  The two of them cooked up a storm, and the guests appeared with everything from gag gifts to presents that overwhelmed me with their generosity.  A case in point:  My parents related that they wanted to present me thirty of something, finally settling on thirty ten dollar bills.  In case you were wondering, that is a small fortune to a graduate student without a penny to his name!

40.  I enjoyed a somewhat subdued birthday, as it fell just three weeks after my wedding.  My wife and I were fairly celebrated out at that point.  We were living in California’s Central Valley, where we both worked for the phone company.  We drove to the Bay Area on a Saturday night to have dinner with my parents, my eldest sister and her husband (now divorced) and their two kids.  They took us out to a fancy seafood restaurant that was also a fish market where whole and fileted dead sea creatures could be purchased for home consumption.  You know the kind of place:  Wood plank floor, boating memorabilia on the walls, guy in a white uniform scaling fish at the counter.  The horrible stench of dead fish struck us in the face and about bowled us over as we walked in the door.  You know it’s bad if I can’t stand it.  My poor wife, whose stomach is unable to tolerate even the mild odor of fish, was ready to toss her cookies.  For added ambience, my sister’s kids behaved like holy terrors, showing off their prowess at using their hands rather than utensils to stuff their mouths and display their full cheek pouches.  Then they dove under the table to engage in a wrestling match.

50.  I was working as a researcher for a small company with about a dozen employees.  Aware of my obsession with Scrabble, my cohorts schemed to come into work early and cover my cubicle with a giant happy birthday sign, each letter cut out of construction paper to resemble a Scrabble tile.  My sister called to inform me that I share a birthday with Oprah Winfrey and to ask why I hadn’t made my first million yet.  A few months later, I was just happy to be receiving an unemployment check.

55.  All of which brings us up to the current day.  I received some rather nifty gifts at the party last night.  For one, I think my hankering for eating out will be satisfied for a while.  In addition to two gift cards for Olive Garden, I snagged a gift card for Starbucks, another for Sonic (um, I have a little cherry limeade addiction) and yet another for McDonald’s.  (I don’t eat at McD’s, but I have developed a habit of visiting their drive-through for two large coffees.  It’s a lot cheaper than Starbucks and, to my taste, just as good.)

I also received two large cans of nuts (pistachios and cashews), four bars of my favorite dairy-free, 85% cocoa butter dark chocolate and a box of tea.  So I think my snack cravings will be satisfied for a bit as well.

The best gift of all, of course, was having many of our family members gathered round for the occasion.  You really start to appreciate things like that when you get to my age.

And I’m glad I like veggie hot dogs, vegetarian chili, salad and chocolate pudding pie.  Because I think I’m going to be eating leftovers for the next week.


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