Monday, July 19, 2010


She sat on the picnic bench wearing her pink and white striped pedal pushers and her pink shirt. Her hair at seventy five had just begun to gray and was sticking to her head. The air was heavy with heat and moisture. On the tables were yellow plastic covers. Bright silver and pink and blue balloons festooned either end of the pavilion, which had a roof and electrical outlets in the posts and a cement floor. The sides were open to catch breezes. The air was still.

People began arriving before four p.m. Setting food and drinks on the tables. Small groups gathered to talk. Well wishers offered her their congratulations. Chairs were unfolded and placed at one end of the pavilion. Friends who had known her for sixty years or more arrived. They hugged her. They shook her hand. "Who is that?" my dad's cousin asked pointing to an attractive man whose dog was dragging him to the middle, near her table. "That's Roy, he was in grand-dad's boyscout troop, is married to Kitty, she has alzheimer's." The tsk,tsk which followed with the 'it happens' sort of conversation went round between us briefly before picking back up the who is what and living where and how many children do they have. We then drifted off, picking up the same sort of conversations with others. Breaking down lives to statistics: married with three kids, divorced, never remarried. And oh yes, I remember you, do you remember me? And 'it has been so long hasn't it?...Yes it has. But few recognized this person or that person and others looked vaguely familiar until introductions were made and then the "well what have you been doing with yourself" resumed.

Many pictures were taken. And the cake, which looked like a wedding cake and had the same sort of sweetness, was cut and eaten after the happy birthday was sung and the candles blown out. Then people began dispersing group by group, little by little. The heat had been too much for some who had said their goodbyes and departed early. Others put iced water bottles to their necks and foreheads. The children returned to playing on the teeter-totters and swings. To skipping and jumping and sweating some more.

And afterward, family and friends returned to the new house at the farm for fireworks, where large watermelons were cut and passed around in the dark and the conversations continued. Boys and young men grabbed pieces of left over sandwiches and fried chicken. "Come up to Michigan next summer." was yes and yes. Agreed upon. She would go. In fact, we would go. Three single women, two widows and a divorcee. "We'll take my car it uses hardly any gas." And we laughed and thought that it would be a wonderful idea to meet in Ann Arbor then drive on to the lake.

The night sky was clear, fireworks popped and whirred. The heat was immense, "like a wet towel" as Rachel's husband John said. And as the night wore on we knew we had to leave and so we kissed and hugged and said our goodbyes. Goodbye, goodbye. And the dark closed in as we pulled, five people in a small car, out onto the highway, with the fireworks behind us, lighting up the night sky.

"Not everything that counts, can be counted and not everything that can be counted, counts." (from a sign hanging in Einstein's office @ Princeton).

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