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Those of us in the Class of ‘63 are celebrating a significant birthday this year, the one that ends in 5. We represent the last whimper of the war babies, conceived with rationed gas and sugar stamps or on a desperate furlough when it seemed the war would never end.
Next year the first line of Baby Boomers descend on Medicare, and the whole world will pause to pontificate. The cover of Time magazine will announce the beginning of a new era, “60 Minutes” will reflect, and the Internet will explode with stories from the sublime to the ridiculous.
But no one is paying much attention to the Class of ‘63, and that’s okay with me. Maybe if no one notices we’ve had a birthday, we can fall into step with the Boomers and forever be entitled.
My friends remembered, however. My high school classmate, poet Sherry Chandler, who had her significant birthday a month earlier, penned a poem. She writes that we are now considered “ag’ed” by the National Institutes of Health. “Not ag’d in one elided syllable” but “ag’ed, pronounc’edly past.”
Helen Wood, the older sister I never had but would have chosen if God had given me that chance, sent me a verse of scripture as she often does.
“So take a new grip with your tired hands, stand firm on your shaky legs, and mark out a straight, smooth path for your feet so that those who follow you, though weak and lame, will not fall and hurt themselves, but become strong.” – Hebrews 12:12 (Living Bible)
Right on cue my left hip began to ache, but I got a grip (a phrase I often use and that amuses Helen), and thought about what my mother would be saying to me were she alive.
She’d say, “Keep paddling, Georgia, like the frog who fell into the cream can and was afraid he’d drown. When morning came, he was sitting on a pat of butter.”
And then of a sudden spring (not quite butter but close enough) burst out singing. To be honest, Mother Nature irritated me last winter, but she’s made up for my shivers with the most melodic – the most beautiful – birthday week I remember.
The pear trees, dressed in white organza, led off the Easter Day Parade with the Hallelujah Chorus. Our three daughters and their families were home to observe this most sacred day in the Christian calendar. Seeing them singing in the choir with their father, surrounded by an altar overflowing with daffodils and lilies (oh, and red and yellow tulips) I became so greedy for life I couldn’t stop my tears. Five-year-old Owen summed it up, I think, as we lifted the rafters of the church with the last hallelujah.
“Next year I want to have a Jesus birthday party,” he said, that being his ultimate compliment.
On Monday, I drove from Lexington to nearby Midway College to hear Kentucky’s venerable Wendell Berry speak. In all seasons, I think the Old Frankfort Pike is one of America’s most beautiful drives, but last week, the redbud trees were commencing their spring ballet. Their fragile, tiny blossoms spun one into another, pirouetting over the miles in lacy tu-tus neither fuchsia nor lavender but not pink either. I briefly wondered if Crayola could capture this unique shade in a crayon. They could only call it “Redbud” because it exists nowhere else in nature.
Emboldened by the beauty of Midway’s campus in full spring regalia (have I mentioned the red and yellow tulips?). I told Mr. Berry about the fields on our farm called by the names of men a hundred years dead. He understood (so few do), and so I slipped him a copy of my little book of Owen County stories, and he smiled and told me Owen County is the first place he sees every morning as he looks out his window on the Henry County side of the river.
By Wednesday, my actual birthday, the crabapple and cherry trees were singing as sweetly as the girls’ glee club on high school graduation night. All pink and white and frothy, they harmonized in perfect pitch with the redbud and the pear trees as three year old Annelise, looking like a flower herself, danced out to greet me for a birthday supper in her backyard.
Friday brought a day at the races at Keeneland with college friends in town for Transylvania’s Alumni Weekend. Keeneland roared as it always does in springtime. All the flowering trees fought to be heard above the crowd (but have I mentioned the red and yellow tulips?).
Saturday took me to Transy’s picture-perfect little campus. Everything was in bloom (yes, even the tulips) and I laughed and then cried as my old college classmate, Dr. Mike Nichols, delivered the Alumni Address, orchestrating our emotions like the maestro he is. Even one of my college professors, Dr. Robert Haynes, was there, and we talked about what we both had done and were going to do yet and I was young.
Then we were off to Indiana to hear our 11-year-old grandson, Jared, sing in the Indianapolis Children’s Choir on Sunday. The tender voices filled the ornate old symphony hall with Japanese lyrics about cherry trees and love.
And so I concluded my birthday week, my celebration of being. “Tell me, what else should I have done?” the poet Mary Oliver writes in “The Summer Day.”
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”