A lot changed between J’s surprise 30th birthday party and this one. When he turned thirty, we both smoked and drank (he quit smoking forever the following day; I didn’t wise up for a few years). By his 40th, neither of us smoked and we hadn’t had a drink for almost seven years.
I’m slightly older than J, so I had to face the formidable fortieth birthday first. Birthdays that usher in new decades feel so much more significant than regular birthdays. Gail Sheehy’s Passages, originally written in the 70s but since updated, offers a road map for the stages of adult life broken down by decades. My summary is an extreme simplification of her work.
The twenties are about finding your path in life – do you please your parents or please yourself? Typically, people feel the pressure of a deadline in their thirties. They redefine their priorities as well as their expectations. The early forties frequently bring a sense of stagnation – is that all there is? It sounds depressing, but opens the door to self-discovery – what Carl Jung would call “individuation.” We are who we are, and that’s okay.
Sheehy includes a quote from Willa Cather: “There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before.”
I think this is the only photo taken at this party but it’s such a classic assemblage of sixties hair and fashion I couldn’t resist. Note my own perennial bad hair day, slacks color-keyed to my sweater, hemmed at that oh-so-chic high-water mark to allow a peek of ankle above thick white socks and shoes. Compare and contrast to my sister, who overthrew my reign as favored child when she chose to be born two years and two days after me. (See photo galleries When I was an Only Child (2 years 2 days of Bliss) and Kathy vs. the Alien Baby for the gory details.) Not only is she blessed with straight, easy to manage blonde hair that looks classy and somehow “right” no matter what decade you’re in, her fashion sense is noticeably less terrible than mine. And she takes a cuter picture.
A bowling party wouldn’t be my first (or second, third, hundredth) choice today even though there’s a cool fifties style bowling alley (Montrose Bowl) less than a mile away that other people rent for fun parties. Our Moonlight Bowl party in ’64 was the last time I had fun bowling.
At a subsequent bowling party – my last, given the humiliation – I scored a total of three points. I’ve repressed the rules of play but I’m guessing I threw nineteen gutter balls and for someone as competitive as me, that’s “It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to” time. When I’m so successfully challenged by a sport, I don’t climb back on the horse – I quit.
During the fifty-four years that followed this party, I lost touch with Donna Duncan and Susan Tanaka – if either of them chances upon this blog, please message me. I’d love to know what you’ve been doing for the past half a century. Susan and I walked to school when the Lawrence Expressway was still Lawrence Station Road. Donna lived on the other side of Del Monte and we spent many a summer day playing endless games of Lie Detector or Monopoly.
You might’ve thought all those hours of board games would’ve taught me to be a good loser. You’d be wrong. Neither game required strength or coordination, making it highly unlikely I’d suffer nineteen consecutive losses.
This is one of those days with more significance today than when I wrote it; there was so much we didn’t know, couldn’t let ourselves imagine. This breakfast/lunch would be the last time I’d see and speak to my father while he was still mobile and able-bodied. Sam and I were lucky to get there at all. I was sound asleep on a Saturday morning when Sam darted into our room and said she just received a text from Janet – we were invited to breakfast for Daddy’s 89th birthday, starting five minutes ago. We threw on our clothes and raced over – even so, we were last to arrive and CD and Alex missed it entirely.
The word I used to describe it in this diary entry is so bland – pleasant. Foxy’s is a long-standing Glendale coffee shop on Colorado Blvd. It was another sunny day in California. In a large group like ours, it’s hard to indulge in much intimate conversation but – as he always did – my father engaged everybody at the table individually about what was going on in our lives. As usual, he said next to nothing about what was going on in his. He certainly didn’t mention he was in pain.
If anything, he might’ve urged us to spend more time with my mother, who was struggling to adjust to the nursing facility where she landed. (It would be weeks before we could move her to Solheim, the Lutheran nursing home they had selected for that far-off day in the distant future when they might need one.) Right now, all my mother wanted was to return to her life at their condo. None of us knew that life was already over. None of us knew we were already counting down hours and minutes.
If I’d known, what would I have said? The question haunts me because contemplating what I would’ve said if I’d known makes the banality of what I did say painfully obvious. We probably said “I love you” in the casual hello-goodbye way we always said it, not in the heartfelt way I wish I’d said it. Not like I’d say it if I’d known it was the last time. I would’ve told him he was the best father ever and the greatest blessing in my life. I would’ve said, please stay. I need more time to study the kindness in your face, so I can reflect a fragment of what you gave to me and anyone else who was lucky enough to drift into your orbit. I would’ve said, the world is a colder place without you. Nothing will be the same when you’re gone. I hunger for the sound of your voice. I’ll miss you every day for the rest of my life.
Instead I said, happy birthday. Thanks for lunch, what a great idea. Let’s do it again for my birthday and Janet’s, coming up in less than two weeks. We didn’t have two weeks. In retrospect, I see his tumble during the photo shoot as foreshadowing but on that sunny day in February, it seemed like a careless mishap, nothing to worry about. We had years of sunny days to brunch in our future. Next time, the whole family – including my mother, who’d surely soon be ambulatory – would gather. We’d get everything right next time.