My Favorite Birthday
Last week was my oldest daughter’s 16th birthday. Like me, she loves celebrating birthdays. We love holding the mystery package in our hands. That moment of curiosity and anticipation. The sound of ripped paper and finally, those precious few seconds before the mystery is revealed.
The other day I was thinking about birthday gifts and I asked myself did I have a favorite. At one time in my life did someone give me something that was perfect and unexpected?
At first I thought it would be an impossible answer. There are certain times and certain gifts for every occasion. How could I pick just one?
But it didn’t take long for my mind to twist and turn the way it does when searching for clues and in a heartbeat my memory took me back to the summer of 1990.
I’ve mentioned my grandfather on a few occasions. His name came up when I did a piece about my cat, Morris. In my first post I compared writing a book to building a shop and I used his shop as an example.
His name was Joe. Iowa born and raised on a farm in South Dakota. He was an amateur boxer, spent time in the CC camp and worked in a steel mill for 40 years.
He didn’t have a lot of regrets but his biggest was not being a part of World War 2.
As a boy he and his brothers stole moonshine from bootleggers. When he grew his hobby advanced to Saturday night bar fights.
When grandma came along she put an end to that.
The summer of 1990 marked the eighth anniversary of his retirement. But even in retirement he was independent, hardworking and lived by his own set of rules.
In June of that summer I came home from college. Little did I know I was about to receive the best birthday gift ever.
He wasn’t the type to ask for advice but that summer he did. An old log buried deep beneath his garden had been a thorn in his side since I was a boy. To my surprise he wanted my opinion on ways to remove it. For reasons I couldn’t understand it had to be removed that summer and he wanted my help.
We took endless trips to the hardware store as I figured out ways to remove the log. I remember being surprised at his patience. He was always the teacher but this time I was on my own.
We worked on the log in the morning and sometimes at night. It never occurred to me that I was doing most of the work.
During the day I worked at a friend’s restaurant and in the evening, if we weren’t working on the log, we would relax on the deck as I told him about my day.
When my birthday arrived I was taken to my favorite restaurant. I couldn’t believe he remembered I had such a place. To my luck and surprise it was all you can eat crab leg night and believe me, I ate them all.
We watched baseball in the evening and not once did he fall asleep. He wanted to know the stories of the teams along with my favorites when I was a kid.
By late summer, covered in sweat, on a hot Northern Washington afternoon the last of the log was removed. I’m pretty sure I imitated Rocky as he celebrated on the steps in Philadelphia. I do remember standing where the log once laid happy with our achievement as dirt and sweat covered my face.
It was around this time that I noticed he was losing weight. A summer cold, he explained, that took away his appetite. But he promised he was feeling better.
In a blink of an eye summer was over. On the morning that I left for college he was up before me. As I packed my bags into my car he said the most unusual thing:
“Great summer, kid. I’ll miss you.”
His words were followed by a hug and a tearful goodbye. Things he had never done before.
Five weeks later he died.
Sympathy was not his thing and the lung cancer that was killing him would have to wait until summer was over.
For years I was angry that he never told me but I knew deep down it wasn’t his style.
If I had known we never would have played pool in our competitive way. Canadian wrestling and the 4th of July rodeo would have taken a back seat.
And the log? I may have said why bother.
Looking back to my favorite birthdays I now see it was an easy answer. It was the summer of 1990.
Happy Friday Everyone!!!!