Living

Yes, still a birthday girl at 56 . . . and counting

TODAY IS my birthday!

Happy birthday to me!

I won’t be doing anything particularly special today, besides receiving congratulatory phone calls from the kids and opening the presents they have sent.

Cliff and I do plan to go to dinner and a movie — a pretty optimistic proposal from him because he knows that if we have dinner first, I’ll likely become too drowsy for the movie and we’ll have to head home.

Besides, I have school in the morning, and in the afternoon.

High school in the morning, college in the afternoon.

At least I didn’t have to get up at 5:30, as I did on the first day of my teaching internship last week. (Did you know that 5:30 comes TWICE a day?)

This year’s birthday still will be special, I suppose, only I’ll celebrate it in more ... sublime ways.

When I was a child, birthdays were really big deals.

There were presents, of course, and Mom would make the meal the birthday girl or boy had ordered. Mine was always fried chicken.

One time Mom even made me a requested blue cake with blue icing, which I gather looked entirely inedible. And I had birthday parties a couple of times. One involved a sort of relay race on which my friends and I had to sit on balloons to pop them. I probably was about 8.

My 18th birthday party was a little tamer. It marked the last time I would see high school friends before college or — in some cases — the last time I would ever see them, period.

Birthdays stopped meaning much to me after I turned 18 and could vote and drink beer legally.

Or 21, when I was about to leave home.

Or 30, when I could no longer be trusted.

By 50, I was sort of bored with birthdays and with myself.

But isn’t a woman’s 50th birthday a big deal?

How could I mark it? I’d always been overly shy about my body.

Being an only girl and having a heart condition that precluded me from taking gym class and, therefore, having to disrobe in front of others, even wearing a swimsuit was torture. You can see that in old pictures of me: I’m curled into myself, as if to prevent a good look at my body.

So for my landmark 50th birthday, I had to do something big.

Something I never would have imagined myself doing. I asked local artist Pat Callahan to sketch me. In the nude. The sketches are beautiful — soft strokes of pastels on textured paper.

One hangs in Cliff’s and my bedroom. (I hid it when the remodeling contractors were here.)

It still unnerves me to remember posing for the portrait, but the important thing is that I did.

That birthday, I also boarded a trans- Atlantic flight.

I had met Cliff a few months before. He was determined to re-visit his beloved Italy that year and took me.

We came back engaged.

Good thing he didn’t take someone else.

So you can see why this year’s 56th birthday doesn’t really crank my tractor.

I won’t be doing any portraits.

I won’t be going to Italy — just Chapin, for my internship.

But maybe, just maybe, I should have a blue cake. For old time’s sake.

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