It is a rather cool morning for August; a morning that turned out to be very different from the one 100 years ago. Today marks my 100th year walking on this soil. 100 long, beautiful, heart-wrenching years. Some years I didn’t think I would survive, but I did. I always came out of whatever darkness I stumbled into. Some years I never wanted to end, but as the saying goes, “all good things must come to an end”. Today, there is nothing I rather do than wrap up in my red paisley shawl and sit on the front porch.
Each step I took the house creaked as if it were singing songs of my past. I lay my hand on the wall where there are light stains of marker that recorded the growth of my children, their children, and now their children’s children. I slide my hand down the length of the desk my husband made of the tree that fell across our driveway during a bad winter storm. We were stuck in our house for days as he chopped, tugged, and sawed our way back to the freedom of the world.
As I unlocked the top lock of the front door, my peripheral alerted me of a small old woman standing beside me. When I turned to see who it was, it took me a second to realize it was just me. My long blonde hair was now short and white. My glowing tan skin has turned pale and leathery. My smile is no longer my own thanks to dentures. My eyes are tired. My body has fallen victim to gravity’s endless pull.
I remember I used to see people as a little girl in the darkest corner of my bedroom. I’d run, as if the floor was made from flames and jump as if I was going to win a Gold medal at the Olympics, into my sister’s bed. I was so safe under those covers with my big sister. It’s been so long since I’ve seen her. When she was in the hospital dying, my nephew lifted me onto the bed. I laid there next to her under the blanket; twirling the hair that framed her face until we both fell asleep like we were younger. We weren’t kids though; we were old women now. I guess that goes to show that life is nothing, but a circle that must be completed. We were young, scared and didn’t know what we were going to do, but together we were safe and loved. It was the same thing except deep wrinkles were sketched around our eyes where we would squint them from the bright summer sun. We had wrinkles that flowed like a river from our checks to our lips from all the nights we stayed up late laughing. Our skin was no longer smooth and soft nor our hair thick and voluminous. She still had the scar on her forearm where glass cut her open as she was climbing back through our bedroom window after staying out too late with her boyfriend, Tommy. No matter what life has done to us, we are the same two girls we always were. Time might have gotten the best of us, but we stayed young and hopeful.
I shuffled my way to my rocking chair that overlooked the body of water rushing towards the ocean. I want to tell it to slow down; to enjoy. There is no hurry in life. Just find a comfortable place and stay awhile. I wanted to tell them it’s okay to take a break from the hustle and bustle of the world. Just sit and breathe and learn and live. I wish I could say that to my young self. I wonder what she was always rushing for? I wish I could tell my younger self so many things. Like stop crying over Patrick O’Leary, he was a dumb cheating son of a bitch that didn’t deserve you. Don’t worry the man of your dreams is coming and you’ll hardly remember Patty anyway. Don’t steal from your parents and if you do, do a better job. I’ll never forget the times Billie-Jean and I stole her parent’s cigarettes and brandy and got drunk and smoked on the docks every weekend in school. Or the time I spit in Valerie’s special church pie after she made a comment about my daughter marrying “one of those colored boys”. Then years later called my son, “aids boy” after he brought his lovely boyfriend to church, I may have accidentally backed my car into hers. Honestly, I think I would pat my younger self on the back for that. I’d also wish I told her to take my children’s names out of her sinning mouth because Jesus wants us to love thy neighbor.
My attention was grabbed by two small bunnies jumping around the garden. Their game of tag made me chuckle. The smaller one of the bunnies was trying to jump on the other bunny. They ran, rolled, and even stopped to take a snack break from one of my plants. They reminded me of how much our children loved playing in the yard after dinner. The sun was going down so the air was brisk and smelled fresh again. My husband and I would sit in our rocking chairs laughing at the kids learning how to cartwheel, play tag, hopscotch, and jump rump. They would come running to us for a glass of lemonade in the summer; a cup of steaming hot cocoa in the winter. Their summer clothes stained in from the grass, mysterious bruises on their arms and legs, and scabs on their knees. The winter would gift them a rose color on the tip of their noses and cheeks. We’d have to give them tissues to wipe the icicles forming on their eyelashes and eyebrows. Under that massive willow tree, is where each kid had their first kiss and their first heartbreak. My daughter even got married under that tree. My husband and I would just watch and smile. They were such beautiful well-behaved kids. He would always whisper to me, “you did great” as he reached for my hand, kiss it, and hold it tightly. Even after our kids were grown and moved out, we always made time after dinner to sit on our chairs and hold hands watching life pass us by. We didn’t need to go chasing it. We had each other and that was better than anything out there anyways.
A few years ago, I had my husband’s rocking chair removed off the front porch. I couldn’t look at it anymore. I’d reach my shaky hand towards him with all the strength I had left. He would do the same until one day he didn’t; until one day there was no one left sitting there. I gave it to my grandson who is a woodworker just like his grandfather. Now he gets to sit in that chair and watch his children grow as the world pass by.
Wiping the tears from my eyes, I giggled as I remember when I turned ten, I cried all day. Nothing went right. I didn’t get any presents or a special birthday dinner. The kitchen wasn’t full of the smell of warm vanilla cake with the sweet scent of lemon icing like it usually was. The economy wasn’t great, and mom and dad felt the repercussions of that. I had a classmate, Marjorie Cook, who’s family didn’t take a terrible hit from the economy. Marjorie rubbed everyone’s nose in it. We are only 27 days apart, so when it was her birthday, she invited me over to celebrate. Her parents threw her this magnificent party. The living room was decorated with 10 balloons. She had this beautiful pinstriped dress on with ruffles by the collar and these patent leather slip-on shoes. Those shoes were so shiny you could see your reflection in them. Her mother came out with a 2-layer cake and a birthday headband. I smiled through my pain, but I knew exactly what Marjorie was doing. She was trying to one-up me; remind me that she had something I didn’t.
Marjorie was a bratty child, but her actions caught up to her. She grew up to be the wife of a senator who was busted for receiving bribes from the enemy. He went to prison and Marjorie’s image was shattered. She left her husband for a much younger man who worked in the next town over as a gas station attendant. The town always whispered about little Marjorie; the girl who had everything has nothing now. She moved away to live a more “humbling” life. I saw her about twenty or so years ago at John Ward’s funeral. No one could believe she showed up for it. She didn’t age very well, that’s for sure. Her children with her ex-husband had nothing to do with her. Marjorie’s marriage with the gas station attendant fizzled out as quickly as it started. No one really knew what happened to him or the twins she had with him.
The out of season breeze had now made the sun run away to search for warmth. The clouds became so full they changed their color to grey. The wind picked up to make the wispy branches of the willow tree do their rain dance. I decided to go back inside before a storm came through. As I just started to boil the kettle for a cup of tea, the sound of the phone ringing vibrated the kitchen’s wall. My sweet great-grandchildren were on the other line wishing their old GG a happy 100th birthday. One of the little darlings told me they would see me soon for a surprise party. I heard my grandson’s wife yell at them as she took the phone. I pretended I didn’t hear a thing.
I sat in our sunroom that overlooked the field we once raised livestock on. We loved those animals and they loved us. I miss waking up before the rest of the world to feed them, clean them, and just spend time with them. Animals are so smart, so gentle, so kind. Us, humans, aren’t deserving of them. We had this calf we rescued. A few farms down from ours was going to shoot her due to a leg deformity. Poor little thing walked funny but was still full of life. We took her in and made her ours. She was so popular with the animals we already had especially with this duck. The duck wasn’t ours; it was wild, but it loved that calf and that calf loved it. So, that duck decided to stick around. They were inseparable. They did everything together. I can still see the ghost of the duck waddling and the calf limping out to pasture. Wherever animals go after they pass, I hope they are still together and whole.
I picked a book out of the pile on the table and began to read. I go to the library twice a month and get out several books. At this age, I have read so many books I can’t recall which ones I have read and didn’t read yet. Plus, at my age, most of my loved ones are gone or live far away. The only company I have now are the characters that reside between these paper pages.
An unexpected knock on the door echoed through my house. Standing on the other side was my dear neighbors. They remind me so much of my family when we first moved here. They are a cute little young couple with a boy about 11 years old. They were here to wish me a happy birthday and gave me a card accompanied by Roberta’s famous casserole. I will be well fed for the next week or so. We sat in the sitting room for a brief visit making small talk. Her boy told me he wanted to live forever like me. Oh, only if he knew the truth. We all want to live forever until one by one we disappear from this world. Our offspring become too busy to stop by for dinner. Our grandchildren are so occupied. Six Sundays in a row, I waited all day for their promised phone calls only to go to bed a tad bit heartbroken and forgotten.
I used to want to live forever too. I wanted to be forever young, fun, beautiful, and well-traveled. I have seen so many things in this world; some horrific, some delightful, even some empowering. I’ve watched this world blossom from being so small-minded to exploding with acceptance and diversity. I’ve watched women swap out their closets from skirts to pants. Their picture frames filled with degrees. Women have set down their sewing machines and cooking utensils to become CEOs. I can sit, eat, learn, laugh, live with people of different skin color than I. I have seen suffering people. I have seen the economy demolish three times over. I’ve witnessed a lot of political scandals. I have seen young kids dye their hair green or pink and shave only half their heads. Boys are wearing their hair long like girls. Girls dress like boys. People can marry who they love. They all seem so small; subtle almost. What was the problem ever about?
The celebration of birthdays is such a strange thing. Time runs differently. You feel different, but the same all at once. You spend the day reflecting on your past. You spend the daydreaming of what is to come. I’ve had 100 of these days. 100 days that are just about me and now there is only me. How lucky am I? How unlucky am I? The words on the pages of my book get harder to see. When I look up, I realized the sun has gone to sleep. What a party pooper it is, but the moon has shown up fashionably late and is ready for a good time.
I change into my pajamas and wash up a little. Before I crawl into my bed, I remembered I needed to do one thing to complete this day. Yesterday, the woman my grandchildren hired to help me with housework ran to the farmers market as an extra favor. I told her to pick up a slice of vanilla cake with sweet lemon icing. I heated it up in the microwave and sat in the darkness of the kitchen. I squeezed my eyes shut imagining all the years my dad would wake me up on the night of my birthday. We would tiptoe to the kitchen trying not to wake up mommy or sissy. We would sit on the floor eating the rest of the cake and laugh the night away. I haven’t heard my parent’ voice in so long, I forgot the sound of their laughter.
When I finished the cake, I snuggled into bed. I kissed the picture of my husband then my children that sat adjacent to my bed. Even though I don’t physically see them. They are still the first things I see in the morning and the last things I see at the end of the day. I wouldn’t want it any other way.
A sound woke me up around 11:15 pm, I searched for my glasses on my nightstand. With blurred vision and a scratchy voice, I called out, “who’s there”? There was a man standing in my doorway; a very handsome man.
“Sweetheart? Is that you?” I mumbled. The man approached me, and it was my sweetheart.
“Oh honey, hello. How have you been? It’s been so long”.
He took my hand and kissed it. Then he looked me in the eye and whispered, “I am much better now that you are finally here. I heard you made a birthday wish to be with me, your sister, your mom, your dad, and all our four-legging children. What took you so long, my lovely wife?”