Only 81

It’s my birthday. The 81st in a long line of memories.

Jackie woke me this morning with a new Patagonia backpack that replaces the one that mysteriously disappeared when we moved to our new house. A big birthday balloon that she somehow sneaked past me yesterday is now prominently displayed over my head. And other more personal gifts were bestowed on me before the day was but an hour long.

It was chilly and too early to jump out of bed and leap onto the treadmill. So we stayed and remembered. Remembered our first birthday together when Jackie organized a star-studded bash at the house on the mountain in celebration of my 79th. Never one to let grass grow under her feet, she would not wait for my 80th.

I recalled my 80th when we spent the weekend at the Beverly Wilshire where I walked into the hotel room and found myself swamped by eighty mylar balloons, a very large bottle of champagne, and reservations at some upscale eateries.

Pausing in our morning reverie, Jackie asked “How old do you feel?”

I took a nanosecond to mentally compile my physical short-comings and my state of mind. I calculated the total miles hiked during the past week, the number of Zoom yoga sessions, the resulting improvement in flexibility, my iffy eyesight, ever-changing blood pressure and the results of my recent annual visit with Dr. Halverson. Without further hesitation I said “Sixty-eight.” In retrospect I have no idea where that came from.

I guess that when you are 81, 68 seems young. Thirteen years of birthdays, good times, and bad ones. Joy and heartbreak. Highs and lows. The loss of my sweet Ila, the passing of my staunchly independent son Steven, and the death of my big brother Irv all weigh heavily on the downside. Starting a new life with Jackie has added sparkle, unexpected opportunities, and much love. On balance, thirteen years brought significant challenges, some growth, and a boatload of smiles.

Still too early to leave the warmth of the bed and Jackie’s body, I chronicled my early years. Grandparents took center stage. Jackie’s were gone before she was born. Luckier than she, I remembered my father’s mother; a frail woman who wore a sheitel, the wig that observant Jewish married women wore to conform to religious law. Grandma Hinda was one of a long line of vision impaired ancestors who unknowingly passed the malady to my father and then to my brother. A floating specter, I never heard her speak; she was gone before I was old enough to remember who she was.

My paternal grandfather never left the Ukrainian shtetl where he was born. All I have of him is a family photo that includes my five-year-old father and his four siblings…Rifka, Bella, Nate and Lou. His history is gone but he surely was of meager means who lived nervously through the pogroms thrust upon the Jews of that region by the all-powerful Czar who was intent upon blaming my innocent zaide for bad harvests, icy winters and defeats at the hands of other imagined infidels.

My maternal grandfather died in Chicago when I was too young to remember. My only image of him is the one found in an oval shaped photo affixed to his grave site marker in a cemetery vandalized many times, and what is now all but forgotten.

In contrast to the others, I vividly remember bubbe Cipa, my maternal grandmother who came to live with us when her husband died. Speaking broken English tinged with Ashkenazic Yiddish, she was my playmate and confidante. We shared a small, one window bedroom in Chicago’s West Rogers Park, where she rubbed my back, helped me get to sleep on humid nights and hummed a tune to soothe my senses. I often regret cheating her at gin rummy, even though she probably knew and chose to let me do it anyway.

Morris and Celia, my parents, never read a Dr. Spock book (to this day I’m not sure that my mother could  read) never attended a holistic seminar and had no knowledge of yoga, tai chi or gluten free. Had they even heard of Vegans they would have thought they were from Mars. Fully devoted to putting food on the table and shelter over our heads, their free time was a special event not often repeated. They loved me unconditionally and I never felt the need to hear it from their lips.

The passage of 80 to 81 seems of little significance. Yet it is when measured by its relationship to my remaining years. I find the thought comforting rather than depressing. It provides an urgency that was all but absent at 25 or even 65. The limitation on remaining life prompts me to enjoy, contribute and live it to the fullest. Whether I take advantage of it is up to me.

Thank you, Jackie, for the three birthdays we have shared. Each was different, but all were memorable. Each reminded me of my past. Each offered a glimpse of a beautiful future. It’s up to us to choose it.

2 Responses to “Only 81”


  1. 1 jackielakshmi May 14, 2020 at 9:00 am

    How beautifully written!
    It is my pleasure to plan a special birthday for you each year as our relationship continues to grow!
    You are very special, and that sure was emphasized on our zoom meeting with your family last night!
    You are a lucky guy, and I’m lucky to share your life with you❤️
    Love you😍

    Like

  2. 2 Sharon June 3, 2020 at 9:33 pm

    I enjoyed reading this-and remembering my very special Bubby and Papa who loved me more than anything. They always told me I was their favorite-I’m sure it was because they spent more time with me than with any of the other grandchildren. I tell my grandchildren all the time how my Bubby Celia and I did everything together. She was the first one to take me to a Cubs game because I wanted to go and no one else did. We sat in the sweltering heat and she never complained. I miss them both so much-they set the bar very high-and I am the sort of Bubbie I am because of them.

    Like


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