It’s My One Hundredth Birthday
It’s my one hundredth birthday today. I am living in a Seniors’ Home in the town in which I grew up, but my remaining family members live far, far away. I will get a few phone calls, but there will be silences when they are at a loss for something to say. There will be silences from my end too. And talking on the phone is not the same as their being with me in the same room where I can see their faces when they speak and listen.
When I think of birthdays, my first thoughts are of my mother making me a special cake, and holding my hands tight when I first see that glorious masterpiece of baking.. She has been gone now for half a century, ten years before my wife Gloria died, but I can still feel her hands holding mine when the memory comes to me.
I would love to be able to share some particularly cherished childhood memories with people here, but pretty much all of them are in their seventies and eighties They were born when I was in high school. They are of a different generation.
And those high school memories are especially dear to me: first kiss, first love, and some great times with Emma, who was my partner with those firsts. Sharing birthdays with her, now that takes me back to some beautiful occasions. Strange how over the last few weeks I have been thinking of her.
It is not that I dislike this place, it is good as such institutions go. I am okay with the residents here or the ‘inmates’ as I call them, and our ‘keepers’, as I jokingly refer to them. There are a couple of old (but still younger than me) men who will play checkers with me, and with whom I can share complaints about the state the world: its music, its politicians, and young people who appear to be permanently linked with the electronic leash of their cell phones. And they laugh at my old jokes, some of which have more years than they have, maybe even are older than I am.
The people who work here are generally kind and thoughtful, even though they are overworked and underpaid. They take very good care of me. I know that there will be a birthday cake waiting for me, with people singing ‘Happy Birthday’ when I go for dinner. And there will be roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, food fit for a king. Who could ask for more? Today I could, but not in the food department; that’s for sure. I wouldn’t complain like some others do. They weren’t teenagers during the 1930s, when you worked hard for every scrap of food at jobs few would want to work at these days, and certainly not being paid with food for being kitchen help.
And the place itself is rather nice. There is a small wooded park with a walkway behind the home. When I was a kid it used to belong to a very rich family, and we boys used to sneak into the property in the back and climb up the more accessible trees. Later I used to sneak in with someone else for other activities. I like now that I am still able to walk there, using my hand-carved oak cane and not a walker, not yet anyway.
A Special Day for Someone Else
It is my birthday today – one of a some significance. No, it isn’t the “big four zero,” as people say nowadays. That age is not so big when you look back at it from the distance of time. I just moved in here a month ago. My great-grandson and his wife just had another baby. I felt that they needed my room to take care of this young one. They didn’t say anything about pushing me out, but I could tell what they were thinking, what they were worrying about. And this seniors’ home is in my hometown. There is a lot that is familiar in the surroundings, just no one that I grew up with, or went to school with. I hope that I can make friends.
The Birthday Party for Ralph
Well, it is time to go for dinner. After we have our first course, the wonderful roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, there will be a moment when the cook brings in the birthday cake with my name, Ralph, on it, a cake that the cook had made herself (just like my mother used to do), with candles ab-lazing. Of course, there will not be 100 candles anymore than there would be 80 candles for someone who had just turned that age. The system was that if the number ended with one, then you had one candle on your cake. This worked all its way up to 10 when you had a birthday that ended with a zero.
I see eyes turning towards the kitchen. I look to see not one but, big surprise, two cakes, both with 10 candles if I am counting them right. There must be someone new in the home. There have never been two cakes on my birthday before.
The cakes arrive at the head table. ‘Ivan the Terrible’ (he’s Russian), the manager of the place then is going to call me and this new person up to cut the cakes. My regular table is close to the head table, so I get there first. I see my name on one of the cakes, and then look to discover who the other celebrant is.
I can’t believe it. Her name is Emma. I turn my head to where I hear footsteps, and then I see her. It looks like, it is Emma, my Emma. No wonder I have been thinking about her over the last weeks. I have been seeing her without knowing it. Silly old man.
What a nice way to celebrate a birthday in an institution. I am growing to like this place. I wonder who is that man is who shares my birthday with me. My name is written on the cake, and on his. I can’t believe it. His name is Ralph. He turns his head, and I can see who it is. It’s Ralph, my Ralph. I must have passed him by a number of times without knowing it. Silly old woman.
The man and woman reach for each other and clasp hands tightly as if in some marriage ceremony. Their eyes become teary, but still shining bright. They are together again, and on their one hundredth shared birthday.