By the time you read this, I will have turned the calendar on another year – to 62, which seems impossible. I am only 35. Or so.
My birthday falls at an interesting time of the year – somewhat akin to Emily’s birthday: Dec. 30. Each of us begins our own new year at a time when everyone else also begins anew. Her’s is, of course, almost at the end of the calendar year, and mine is at the beginning of the new school year. For as long as I can remember, I have greeted the school year with a mixture of anticipation and melancholy – anticipation for what the new year holds, and melancholy for the end of another year when I must evaluate my life as a whole, hoping that it measures up – measures up to what, I don’t know.
Each year, I go through a punch list of sorts, a list that caught my imagination when I saw the movie “The Way We Were.” Hubbell (Robert Redford) and J.J. (Bradford Dillman), long fast friends, are sailing and looking back over their privileged fortunate lives, and they go through a litany that has followed them since their youth: “Best party.” “Best car.” “Best year.” When they get to the “Best Year” challenge, each of them begins by naming one particular year, and then each adds another year, and another, and another, because for them, all years have been good.
Here’s my list.
Best birthday: 30. I was living in Kansas City and Max was here in Sedalia. He and I had been shopping for my birthday present, because he said he didn’t know what to buy me. I had picked out a present for myself, a sweater vest, I think, and he bought it and took it home to wrap. He drove up for my birthday and brought in a wrapped present. I opened it sarcastically, pretending that I would be surprised, and then when I opened the box, it wasn’t the sweater! It was something different! I started laughing, and he said, “Oops! I brought in the wrong box!” He went back out to his car and brought in another gift. I opened it – still not the sweater vest! He went back out to the car two more times, and the last gift I opened was finally the sweater vest. For a man who didn’t know what to buy me, he did really well.
Best year: A tie – 1984, 1988, and 2012. Max and I were married in 1984, and Emily was born in 1988. 2012 was the year I stepped out of my comfort zone by half a world and went to Afghanistan to learn all I could learn. Each of these years changed my life in ways that I couldn’t have imagined.
Best party: An engagement party for 100 people. The back story, however, is what makes that party the best. Max and I had literally torn up/down our back yard over a couple of years, taking down a summer kitchen, replanting innumerable iris, peonies, and surprise lilies, taking up a concrete patio that I called “the landing pad,” planting grass, and unfortunately taking down dying trees. Max had designed a pergola, and our friends participated in its building. One laid a new concrete floor over the remaining kitchen floor. Another installed steel posts to hold up the pergola’s open ceiling, and yet another constructed the jigsaw puzzle-like ceiling in his workshop. The steel posts were installed on Monday, and in the rain on Friday, Max and the carpenter put the roof together for the party the next day, which went off without a hitch.
Best car: The one we have now. Max and I have put innumerable miles on our little convertible, driving to and from Wyoming, Savannah, Little Rock, Springfield, Whitefish Bay (Wisconsin), Austin, and, of course, Thayer. We put the top down and just drive, loving the feel of wind in our faces. That car makes going to Dairy Queen a vacation.
Best – well, I think you get it. I think I’ve had a great life so far. I’m looking forward to the next year.
Deborah Mitchell is a a local attorney and a Municipal Court Judge.