Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Celebrating Seventy

I had imagined that my birthday would be quiet and uneventful and, since this birthday was a major one, I was feeling a little sorry for myself -- sorry that my closest friends and extended family live so far away. I wanted to celebrate being only the second person for several generations on the McCoy side of the family to reach 70. (The first was Aunt Molly, whose 70th birthday we celebrated with great ceremony and joy in 1987.)

I was just finishing a blog post when Bob poked his head in the door of my writing casita. "Why don't we go to lunch at the Grille?" he asked. "To celebrate your birthday."

I was puzzled. "But my birthday is tomorrow."

"Well, let's spread the celebration out," he said with a smile. "Tomorrow maybe we'll have dinner out. Live dangerously. Eat out twice in one week!"

We laughed. I finished the post and, five minutes later, walked in the front door of our main house and there was the most fantastic birthday present: my dear friend Mary Breiner, who lives in California, leaping off the couch and into my arms.

Amid delighted squeals, tears, and hugs, Mary, my friend for 43 years, and Bob, my husband of 38 years, told me that they had been planning this surprise for months. Bob had told me that he had a business meeting that morning while he was really picking Mary up at the airport in Phoenix. They high-fived each other, thrilled that they had pulled this covert birthday plan off and we headed out for lunch.

I told Mary that I was especially surprised to see her because she had just spent the week in New York where there was a trial run of a play based on her father's popular novel "Mr. Blue." Mary had been asked to provide a prelude/commentary to the play at each performance that week, a task she carried off wonderfully. Audience members -- like the group of nuns pictured below -- sought her out after each show with praise and with questions about her father -- Myles Connolly -- and his life and work.

       Mary and a group of N.Y. admirers after a performance of "Mr. Blue"

After she flew back home to California, she had only had two days to spend with her husband John, who has health problems but a wonderful caregiver named Arthur, before she headed to Arizona. She smiled at my surprise. "I wouldn't have missed this for the world!" she said. "Your reaching 70 is a major cause for celebration!"

We had a great time showing Mary the sights of Florence, AZ: from a derelict tractor landmark called "Whispering Roy" to the incredibly eclectic hardware store on Main Street to the Prison Store offering cookies, crafts and artwork made by inmates of the nine adjacent maximum security prisons. Mary was enthusiastic and gracious and gave me the gift of seeing this area through her eyes -- seeing the beauty, humor and uniqueness of the surroundings rather than dwelling on the desolate.

                                          Whispering Roy: A Florence Landmark

We attended Mass on Sunday at a beautiful little church I hadn't noticed before and laughed heartily through a three way gift exchange -- since Bob's birthday is three days after and Mary's is exactly a week after mine. They were both turning 71.

Mary's gift to me was meant to be simply lovely and memorable. In the catalogue, it had been pictured as a beautiful sea shell lamp. (Mary had given Bob and me a real chambered nautilus shell as a wedding gift. We had treasured it, but it was destroyed in the 1994 Northridge earthquake.)

The seashell lamp emerging from the box that arrived on our doorstep was something quite different: it looked like a giant, scary sea creature with random spikes and when plugged in, it had a positively malevolent glow. We stared at it, silent, transfixed. Crestfallen, Mary finally broke the stunned silence. "It looked so pretty in the catalogue," she said sadly.

"Oh, Mary," I said. "It's the thought that counts. I really appreciate..." I looked at the glowering gift again and started laughing uncontrollably

"It's wonderful!" I gasped. "I've never seen anything like it."

Mary and Bob started laughing, too. We passed the lamp around, wiping our eyes and giggling. "It makes me laugh whenever I look at it," I told Mary. "It will be my happy place to go when I'm feeling down. Thank you so much! It will make me smile and laugh and think of you."

And it now has a place of honor in the living room. It is one of my all time favorite gifts: it makes me laugh and feel the love of a very dear friend.

                                           Mary's gift brings unexpected hilarity

                                          What is it? Oh, I know...what the hell IS it?

                                         It continues to make me smile whenever I see it!

It was a wonderful weekend filled with much laughter, good talks, songfests, lovely shared meals both out and at home, beautiful flowers from my wonderful friend Tim Schellhardt and phone calls and cards from a variety of people I love -- from my college roommate Ruth Woodling to four ex-boyfriends from decades ago and a variety of good friends from childhood, college and an assortment of workplaces through the years as well as newer Arizona friends.

There were more great surprises: a singing happy birthday greeting -- complete with Lego cake -- from my brother Mike and his children Maggie and Henry in Bangkok; a lovely card from my dear friend Dr. Chuck Wibbelsman and the news that he had bought tickets to the two Broadway shows I wanted most to see (An American in Paris and Fun Home) during my upcoming trip to New York in June. Our next door neighbors Carl and Judith brought over a beautiful little birthday cake.There was a loving text and birthday dance picture from my ailing sister Tai in Seattle, a Facetime visit with Mary's husband John and caregiver Arthur who sent warm wishes for the happiest of birthdays and a fun conversation with my cousin Caron in Kansas City, who will turn 75 this week and who laughed with wonder at the prospect of us both being seventy-somethings when it feels like just yesterday we were kids running through the fields of our grandparents' farm.

My brother Mike, Maggie and Henry, send birthday wishes from Bangkok

                  My sister Tai in Seattle: a birthday dance in hospital garb   

                                     Flowers from Tim, cards from variety of friends

Mary and Bob Songfest

                                                 Sweet Pea joins the celebration                                                            

The celebration lingers in my heart with a new understanding of what it means to mark a significant birthday memorably. It isn't about presents or lavish meals. It's about being remembered by people who matter so much, loved ones who are family or treasured, longtime friends as well as new friends here. It's about sharing the celebration with special people who took the time --  in Mary's case, four days out of her busy life -- to let me know they cared.

There is no greater birthday gift than that.

                                          Mary's presence: the greatest gift


  1. Thank you for sharing your happy birthday. It made me happy to read about it!

  2. Happy, Happy Birthday! So glad you enjoyed and shared it with good friends.

  3. No friend like an old friend. What a great surprise. Happy birthday!

  4. How delightful, how wonderful, that is true friendship. May you enjoy every moment of the festivities and have a Happy Birthday.

  5. What a delightful way to welcome a new decade. Ah to be 70 again.
    The gift was priceless as it is one that will keep on giving. Perfect.
    Happy Birthday--you are a fortunate woman to have such dear friends in your life.

  6. Happy 70th birthday to you, born in 1945 I read your column when I get a chance, I find you fascinating and kind and wish you life's very best, love, joy and peace, it is not the years of one's life it is the life in one's years!

  7. First of all, after the email talk about early or belated birthdays, I think this greeting is CLEARLY belated and so extra heartfelt for all that! It does sound like the most wonderful of celebrations filled with the best of it all -- great love, friendship and joy. (And Sweet Pea is mighty cute -- don't think I've seen much of her!). Truly, Kathy, a wonderful way to celebrate a wonderful milestone!

  8. Hi there, Just stopping by to say “Happy Mother’s Day” to you. I’m sure you are having a fabulous day. I celebrated yesterday when one of my sons and his beautiful wife came to see us….

    As you probably know, we’ve been out-of-town this past week and I haven’t done any blogging much at all. I hope you enjoyed my two Tulip blog posts while we were gone——and be sure and tune in tomorrow morning to find out what we’ve been doing this past week….

    Enjoyed your post today! Made me smile from ear to ear... So glad Mary came --bringing that special 'lamp'... What JOY..... Happy Belated Birthday from one who is a little older (will be 73 in August).


  9. Many happy return of the day, dear Kathy. Heartfelt, even if belatedly.

    You are right, it’s people who count, not gifts. And if any gifts can make us laugh, so much the better.

  10. Belated Happy Birthday, Kathy -- you have so many good people in your life! You are looking wonderful, by the way. All the best in the upcoming year.

  11. Extremely belated birthday greetings, Kathy. Somehow I missed this post when it first came out, but I'm glad I found it now as it's so wonderfully happy and full of gratitude and a joy to read. :-)