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Birthdays Inspire Memories

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by Harriet Gross

July is my birthday month.  Throughout it, I wear a zodiac pendant – Cancer the Crab.  It fits both ways:  I’ve survived cancer, and sometimes I’m really “crabby” myself!

Birthdays inspire memories, and memories inspire stories.  And without our stories, without telling them, we’re not the full and complete people we ought to be.  My own trio of favorites represent three different portions of my long life…

When I was nine, I had my last birthday party at home; after that year, I was away at camp every July.  Home parties were what you had, back in the late ‘30s and into the ‘40s, before outings to playlands of various kinds.  We’d play those old-fashioned games like Pin the Tail on the Donkey and Musical Chairs in the living room, then go into the dining room where the cake (made my Mother) was already on the table, and wait for her to scoop the ice cream that Dad had just returned with; he had to make a last-minute run to the drugstore to pick it up, because this was a party in the days before home freezers!

Following the food were the presents – opened in front of everyone, with thanks given immediately.  Here’s what I’ll never forget: as a dedicated reader, I had hinted around that I dearly desired a copy of “Anne of Green Gables,” Lucy Maud Montgomery’s classic about a young girl growing up on Canada’s Prince Edward Island.  But somebody didn’t know the difference between a child’s classic and a grownup’s one – or maybe thought it was time for me to learn it:  I received Nathanial Hawthorne’s “House of the Seven Gables” instead.  I managed to say thanks and hide my disappointment, and it took me some time to realize that the second book would benefit me much more in the long run than the first.  I still have that same book, and treasure it to this day.

When I was 40 and working in a newspaper office very near to my house, I walked home at the end of a long and tiring day to find four of my best friends sitting comfortably on my small patio, sipping margaritas.  They handed me one, sat me in a waiting chair, and gifted me with a silver Parker ballpoint pen.  I use it to this day, and it is much admired and even coveted by the people who own the shop where I can buy refills for it. Some things really do improve with age!

My 80th birthday – four long/short years ago – was happy and sad.  Many gathered to celebrate with me at a Chinese restaurant dinner party, but among the friends there was one making her last “public appearance,” for afterward she entered hospice, and passed away soon.  And among family was my dear husband Fred, also attending his last party; within a week he too was in hospice, and died quickly after.  Breast cancer took both these treasured lives, which is why I work hard – as a two-time survivor myself – to advocate early detection, for men as well as women.

This year, I mark the day by attending a matinee, having dinner with friends afterward, and going home to spend the evening alone with my memories and the stories I tell about them.  Not a bad way to celebrate turning 84!

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