, Gloucester, MA


April 19, 2013

Bombing, birthday, and gift of $5 bill

Hanging on the doorframe in our kitchen is a “birthday calendar,” a simple arrangement of 12 narrow vertical pages bound together at the top, one for each month, displaying at a glance the birthdays of family and friends that we have entered. It’s been there for 40 years, its edges curling forward from the ravages of time. We’ve added wedding anniversaries, too, as our kids began to have them.

When my husband’s father died, we thought to erase his name, but it was written in ink, so we left it, as we then did with deaths of all our parents, feeling their spirits funnel into in our on-going lives.

When one of their birthdays appears on the birthday calendar, my husband does the math, remarking how old they “would have been” this year. As of today’s date, my father would have been celebrating his 95th.

This past Monday was my husband’s birthday. We don’t really care about our own birthdays anymore. They seem to represent reminders of aches and pains that we didn’t have on last year’s birthday. They herald the indication that body parts don’t function as they should and some are in need of alteration, or even replacement. We don’t care if we receive gifts. Been there; done that. It’s cause enough for celebration that the other is still there when we wake up in the morning.

But my husband feigns anticipation of his birthday to our grandchildren. I heard him ask a week in advance, “Are you excited for my birthday?” People only under the age of 6 take this question seriously, everyone else meeting it with an exaggerated eye roll.

This year, I heard him tell to anyone listening that his birthday hadn’t been the same since his grandmother died. He had to repeat the remark several times before anyone even pretended to take the bait and ask, “Why is that?,” where upon he replied that when he was a kid, his grandmother always gave him $5 on his birthday.

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