Friday, March 14, 2008
Happy Birthday Pop
Happy Birthday. I think about you a lot this week, every year. One of the best memories of my whole life was sharing my birthday party with you. With the celebration of our births less than 24 hours apart every year I felt very connected with you when I was a little girl.
This week I spent a lot of time rooting around in the attic in dusty boxes looking for one special picture. It must have been from 1971 or 72 because my hair was still really long. (Remember that Mother cut it after I started first grade? It was too much trouble to deal with long hair on school mornings.) I was probably six and you were at my house for our annual party. We were sitting next to each other at the dinner table. I ran from the table and up to my closet and dug out two pointy, cardboard hats. I put mine on and brought the other one to you. You were such a good sport that you wore that hat through the rest of the meal. My heart aches because I can’t find the picture.
I’ve never really thought much about you aging – even though you probably wouldn’t recognize me anymore. The last time I saw you, you were 65 and I was nine. I got a little panicky on Wednesday when I realized that you would have been 99 this year. That’s more about issues with my own aging than anything else.
I’m sure you have no idea what kind of impact you’ve had on me since 1974.
I attribute whatever musical abilities and love of music that I have to you. One of my earliest memories is hearing you play the piano and the organ. I always felt like such a loved little girl when you would play “Tiny Bubbles” and I would dance for you.
In fourth grade I chose the clarinet as the instrument that I wanted to play. One afternoon I came home from school and Mother and Dad had bought my new instrument. It was hidden behind the couch. They brought it out to surprise me and when I held it in my hands for the first time I remember wishing that you were there to see it. I took it upstairs to my room and cried.
I’ve never traveled much but I remember the castanets you brought me from Mexico, the grass skirt from Hawaii, the sugarcane from Florida, and the jewelry from Greece. I also treasured the diary with the real lock and key that you bought me when I went with you to New Orleans.
Like you, I only drink real half-and-half in my coffee.
I remember that every Saturday night you and Momma, and sometimes Mother and Dad would go out to dinner. It was the kind of dinner that reminds me now of movies from the 1950’s. Everyone got all dressed up in very glamorous dresses, suits and jewelry. You all always looked so beautiful as the babysitter came to stay with Cindy and me. Once, I got to go along. You bought me all the Shirley Temple’s I wanted while the adults sipped cocktails. There was an orchestra at the restaurant and I remember dancing with you – standing on your feet and feeling like the luckiest girl in the world.
Christmas with you was the best. We took your “old man” socks – the long, nylon ones that came up to your knees – and nailed them to the mantle. The next morning Santa had always put oranges and apples in them and they looked so funny – stretched and droopy – hanging there.
Once, in high school, I was part of an honor’s symphonic band that was very, very good. We were playing “Pictures at an Exhibition” and it was the only time in my life that I have been completely absorbed in the task at hand. There was no past, no future ¬– just each note being played in the moment and the sound of what we were creating together. I remember the distinct feeling that you were hovering over my left shoulder. Listening. Approving.
Tonight, I will lift a Shirley Temple to you, on your birthday. Tomorrow, I will feel you with me, on mine.
Happy Birthday Pop. I still miss you.