60 Stories: Birthday Parties
The last time I threw a big birthday party for myself was 1981. A senior in high school, I was vice-president of our class. I got to plan the official “senior skip day” to land on MY eighteenth birthday. On the morning of Monday, June 8, about 200 of my fellow classmates piled onto three mustard-yellow school buses and loudly boom-boxed and bounced our way across the state of Connecticut to Sherwood Isle. Located on the shore of the Long Island Sound in Westport Connecticut, it's the closest “real” beach for those of us from the northwest hills of this tiny state. (I had tried to talk to our Principal into allowing us to go to Rhode Island where “real beaches with real waves are, c’mon Doc!” but I think by that time of the year, he was THIS CLOSE to being done with our “rowdy” Class of ‘81 and said, “Have fun at Sherwood Isle, Lori. Stay out of trouble.”
I was riding pretty high that day. Senior year was almost over, I was surrounded by friends I was convinced I’d be close to forever and my boyfriend and I were smack in the middle of holy wow we’re in love-phase that is so sweet and so tragic at that age. If you measured my extraversion on the Myers-Briggs personality test at that time, I’d be off-the-charts E. Extra-extraverted. On this day, to be at the beach, with lots of friends on my eighteenth birthday was fantastic.
Later that night, those same pals and I orchestrated a keg party at “The Cove”--a not-so-secret party spot at the lake. It was the second time that day “Happy Birthday” was sung to me. I was on top of the world as I knew it. And what did I know then, really? I’d grown up in the Bronx, New York City, and then in this country New England town for ten years. I knew what I knew, for having had the experiences I had, all colored of course by the people, places and things around me. The stories, values, books, tv, music, rituals, habits, unspoken belief systems of a mixture of Protestant Scots/Irish, stoic German with some Italian thrown in for good measure, this is what shaped and informed me up until age 18.
In 1981, I am invincible. Mercurial, smart, and infinitely curious, I lean toward education and human service professions and far away from corporate life or really, anything that would ask me to wear high heels. I am privileged in that my parents will pay for my college costs in New Hampshire. I won’t have to work at the dining hall or the bookstore during the semester as my “job is to study.” Everything is in front of me.
At the kegger I light my Merit cigarettes using the end of a friend’s long Virginia Slims. My plastic red cup is filled with beer. I laugh hard and often–the kind of guffaws that make your head roll backwards with your mouth wide open–that you share only with the people you literally grow up with.
Last week was my second big birthday celebration. This time I turn sixty. Together with Jay celebrating his hard-won, thank-god retirement from several decades in public education, we go to Costco. We buy way too much beer and wine because we long-time sober folks are a little out of touch with what people drink and how much. We invite friends over for tacos and cake.
It’s good, it’s SO good. Here at 60, I am far from the extraverted, social being I once was. My daughter Marin likes to say my social battery gets drained A LOT faster now. She’s right. I sometimes wonder if it all got used up before I turned 20. On this night, though, I almost feel like my old self. I’m really happy to see people, to feed them, to laugh, to be together. We know it will be a cross-section of many groups. I ask guests to put on name tags and a word or 2 telling how they know us. I find out later that some people LOVE this, that they end up talking at length with people who were strangers just a moment before.
The main party, of course, is centered around the kitchen. Near the fridge is gorgeous Molly from Denver, whom I met during an online life-coaching course during Covid. Together with her sister Laura Leigh, Molly is now in the Beautiful Friendship Garden*. Over by the pantry is Marin with Finn and Simone, both of whom I’ve known and witnessed and adored since they were little girls. Old neighbors, Marin’s preschool teacher, new neighbors, Jay’s colleagues and band members, friends from my Sacred Circle, they are all in our kitchen.
Here comes Nancy, swooping in like the Goddess she is, taking over The Sink (such an important place during a party, when you think about it.) Long-time comrades from Girl Scout days, Michelle and Edna suddenly appear just when it becomes obvious we need help setting up the taco bar and where the hell are ALL my serving spoons? I love these ladies. They always have my back.
Outside there’s dear Andrea and Jonathan chatting with Michelle and Thom. On the deck is Jay’s oldest childhood friend Chip, who drives seven+ hours to get here and Mike, a pal from Telluride ski days, who drives four, talking with Jerry and his lovely wife. Here’s K and J and K and L and A and K and V, some of whom I’ve known from the path of recovery for over three decades. There’s my “little brother” Brian and his beloved John. I was part of their wedding in the 90s, and it means everything that they are here. Still. Chosen family is a beautiful thing.
Tonight, I’m not young nor do I feel invincible. My feet hurt! My back aches. I AM ALSO delighted, because this is the first time we’ve been able to have a gathering at our home when the gardens are full and luscious and it’s not raining. There’s Shani who I just met on a retreat in Mexico, and Jonelle, the realtor who sold us this house, next to Patricia and Ali, who come to my pop-in breathwork classes. I appreciate them! Dana, Lisa and I listen with love to Athena’s exuberant stories. Olive the dog greets and sniffs everyone as if they are the Most Important Person EVER.
Everything is in front of me.
We live in a wonderful community. There's very little pretense here. Jay and I don’t know we need to have a table out for cards and gifts. We never even think about it. After a rousing and wonderfully weird rendition of Happy Birthday/Retirement breaks out, we’re supposed to have a speech ready? Perhaps typical of a long-time married couple, we talk at the same time, not even listening to one other. Jay says THANKS for being here, EAT LOTS of good food and I say ENJOY your life! and I guess that’s as good a speech as any.
1981 at the beach with 200 of my classmates for my 18th birthday. Thank god I can't find any photos of myself.
2023, a gathering of good humans, for my 60th and Jay's retirement.
*A neighbor for ten years and a friend for 20, Dawn writes to me after the party:
What a lovely celebration of you and Jay. You two have cultivated a Beautiful Friendship Garden. I’m so happy to be part of it.
Me too, Dawn. Me too.