Pam’s Pictorama Post: I stole the image here today – he is not in the Pictorama collection, but he seemed to want to wish me a Happy Birthday. It was used for this purpose and sent to someone named Marjorie on August 21 of 1907, sent from Grandma, Grandpa, Auntie Janet, Uncle Allen, Beaumont & I, and signed by Auntie Marion.
Today I draft this post this poised on the threshold of my birthday (for the record, perched also on the edge of a computer chair also, which I am sharing with a less than cooperative kitty who believes he owns it, Mr. Blackie). As I stare down the barrel of the coming year, it is a time I take stock and figure out how I might pull my socks up a bit in the coming year. Like many people I am in fact ambivalent about my birthday, getting older is not all that entertaining after a certain age and being reminded of your mortality more sobering than celebratory certainly. My approach to it is tackling it two-fold – planned celebration and a hard look at the year ahead and behind.
I remember when this approach to birthdays began to formulate. On my 21st birthday I suddenly found I was daunted by the prospect of my birthday for the first time – I had crossed that line between looking forward to the annual march toward adulthood to suddenly realizing I was there, but had no idea where I was going. I was living in London on a year abroad program in college. I had a perfectly splendid time living there, finally realizing that many possibilities were open to me – I could decide to live in an exciting city rather than a small town, and the world was a big place to explore with many possibilities. However, when my birthday arrived on a cold damp day in February (which in all fairness it always is – in New York there is often a foot of snow on the ground and I have canceled endless birthday plans around the weather) I was suddenly overwhelmed and realized that I was far from home and those who loved me. Adulthood was upon my and I had no idea what I was suppose to do with it.
Deciding not to be beaten by the day I attacked it. I kicked it off by walking into the upscale hair dresser of one of my wealthier roommates used and had my shoulder length hair clipped into the shortest of boy bobs. (We had a barely functioning shower in our flat, and I had been considering this for a month or so since moving into this new place, and washing my hair with the meagre hot water was nearly impossible. Kim has clearly expressed a preference for my hair long and I anticipate his shiver of dismay when he reads this.) I called a good friend, Don Bay, and threw myself on his mercy and asked him to take me out. I then went to a favorite antique and junk store located on the King’s Road and purchased a flowered silk dress, cut on the bias, from the 1920’s; a black wool jacket with houndstooth trim; an Egyptian influenced necklace – probably also circa the 1920’s, and a tea pot in its own metal warming sleeve. To me it looked pleasantly like a space ship. I loved that tea pot. The spout chipped, but I never had the heart to throw it out and still have it.
I dolled myself up in my purchases (sans teapot, of course) and Don took me to dinner at a Greek restaurant – somewhat shocked as everyone would be for weeks by the newly shorn hair. We had a long night on the town and I remember coming home very late and calling my mom. I have always spoken with my mother on my birthday figuring she is the only other person to have witnessed them all – and I had not been able to do earlier in the day. The operator, very British, chided me for calling New Jersey at such an ungodly hour – how funny! I can’t imagine an American operator doing that. Mom didn’t care; she was glad to hear from me and we talked a long time.
Meanwhile, my sister Loren had the ritual of calling and waking me up on my birthday which started when she left for college – in order to be the first to wish me a Happy Birthday she would say. She announced one year that I should take my birthday off from work as celebration and she agreed to take the day with me. At my behest we went to the butterfly exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History – it may have been the year of its inception. I had a strong yen to see it and it seemed like the perfect pre-lunch activity for us. What I didn’t realize was that she was actually somewhat horrified by the butterflies which, in a rather insistent way, kept landing on us to gently suck the salt off our skin. Surprising to me because she was not squeamish about many things, but I always loved her for not wanting to spoil my fun and gamely taking the butterflies on.
Sadly, it has been more than a dozen years since Loren died and at first birthdays were an almost unbearable reminder. I still miss the morning calls, but friends have piled in to fill the void in various ways. I have continued the tradition of a day devoted to myself and my endeavors – this year Kim and I have a day of adventure planned poking around some junk stores and bookstores. (In the rain, not snow this year.) In addition to a day to myself, about the same time I also instituted dinner or lunch with my fellow Aquarians, spaced throughout the month, which stretches the birthday spirit out and ensures I see people I don’t always get much time with. Dinner with Eileen (where we also have our fortunes told annually) is on Monday night. Lunch with Ada, who is in her 80’s, is next week at the Met. Whitney was at the end of January to accommodate increasingly difficult schedules to juggle. New Aquarians await meeting and are always welcome to join the club.
Meanwhile, having devoted the past ten months to a new job, I have my work cut out for me in the coming twelve months – and I suspect that it will provide all the adventure I could ask for at the moment, including a trip to London at the end of the month. As I finish this post, it is my actual birthday. A large box containing a rather extraordinary toy (future post) which arrived from Belgium in January, awaits my opening, and the day with Kim stretches ahead like a glowing like a gem, despite the downpour. I am a lucky girl indeed and it is a very happy birthday already I think.