Birthday gifts, memories stick with us for life

I love birthdays, and yesterday was mine — quite different from so many I’ve had in the past. Before, I’d always considered as “special” those birthdays that end with 5 or 0.
But since my husband passed away between my last birthday and this, I realized that when you hit a certain age and stage of life, every birthday is special.
I don’t remember all my birthdays, but some are forever in my memory.  The day I turned 9, when I had wished for Anne of Green Gables and got Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The House of the Seven Gables instead.
Later, I learned how a true classic can turn disappointment into pure joy. The day I turned 40, when I arrived home from my office to find my best friends sitting on my patio, sipping sweet libations and immediately pouring one for me. Their gift was a slender Parker pen in sterling silver with gold embellishments, something I would never have bought for myself.
The day when I turned 60, and nobody but me remembered that I was having an out-of-the-ordinary  “special” birthday. I was morose until the light bulb went on belatedly in the head of my best friend, who gifted me with a charming piece of Beleek china I would never have bought for myself.
Isn’t it funny, how often we do not treat ourselves to things that bring us lasting happiness? Or maybe it’s because others give them to us that happiness is the lasting result …
My husband was alive one year ago, when I had a very big birthday ending in 0. He was already quite sick then, but still getting around, still going places, still attending events like the dinner party I gave to celebrate my family and friends rather than myself. He gave me a present that day: a beautifully wrapped small package containing a large number of $100 bills.
“And what do you want me to do with this?” I asked him; it was as unlike him to give cash as it was for him to wrap anything with tissue and bows.
“Just put it away for now,” he said.  “You’ll be needing it.”
Did I miss entirely his intimation, or did I let it go right past me because I didn’t want to accept that he was terminal, and he knew it?
Three weeks later he quietly passed away, and his final gift made it easier for me to deal quickly and relatively painlessly with the inevitable end-of-life costs. How I wished, after the fact, that I had been aware enough, and coherent enough, to thank him properly, in advance …
I used to gave parties for others on their special 5 and 0 birthdays, asking everyone to bring something in that amount for a fun present. When my best bridge partner turned 40, someone brought him all the honor cards from a single deck: 40 points in the game! When a social worker friend turned 45, she received a box of carefully counted-out mixed nuts: “Group Therapy,” the card read. When my son turned 50, he laughed long and hard at that many packs of dental floss — a lifetime supply, I’d guess.  I wholeheartedly recommend this theme to you for future celebrations.
But no party for me this year.  I went to synagogue on the first Friday of the month, when our congregation recognizes those with anniversaries and birthdays during the coming few weeks, and shared a piece of cake afterward with my friends.
And yesterday, on the real day marking my birth, I went out for a quiet dinner, all by myself, to a restaurant that serves a wonderful caprese salad appetizer just perfect as a whole meal for one, and had a cupcake with a candle for dessert. Then I went home and wrote thank-you notes to the out-of-towners who had remembered my day — with that silver pen I’ve treasured for 41 long years.

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