When I announced to my friends in late spring that I was choosing to celebrate my 80th on August 14 instead of July 7, I REALLY meant it. That is to say, I wanted NOT to celebrate it here, but at a gala party in La Conner, Washington with my two college freshman roommates also turning 80 this summer. I’ve been writing a funny skit we will perform. It seems like time to lay down new rituals and new memories. Still, as the 7th rolled around this week I was delighted to receive many cards and many phone calls, and not a few visitors.
In quiet times I tried hard to recall some of the more important celebrations over the years, and was amused at how few I could remember. Growing up in depression times I was used to receiving only one gift, yet it was so very important to me. Daddy would bring it home with him from work, and I would meet him at the yellow rose trellis in the back yard, as he came panting from the bus, camel hanging from his lips. He would give me a kiss, his graying moustache tickling my cheek, and I would rip off the wrappings. Most years it was a children’s art book, with reproductions of famous paintings. I adored this.
Finally a year came when tearing off the green paper I discovered a book on American cowboys. I tried to mask my despair. Daddy explained patiently that there were no more art books in the series.
I was crestfallen. How could he fail me? Now my father had grown up in Colorado, indeed been a cowboy, and a cavalry soldier, and horses were part of his heritage, not mine. I can remember the paintings on the cover, but I doubt I ever opened the book. Instead, I began to comprehend what it meant to lie, to deceive, to pretend, in order to protect the feelings of someone you loved, and the heavy weight on the heart to be caught up in that conflict. Perhaps I was nine or ten on this occasion, yet I remember today that painful moment. I wish life would quit presenting these tug of wars, but it never does. It seems unsolvable. If there is one thing I have learned in 80 years it is that when I am authentic, it often hurts others; when I am not, it hurts me. I’ve yet to find the answer, and don’t expect to.
Just now I am reading a book, How the Crows Flies, which illustrates this well, from a child’s eyes. My first creative writing teacher, Izabella, visited unexpectedly for lunch last Monday and suggested it. Izabella, a student at Mills last year, has returned to her native Poland to teach at a University in Gydnia. She shared stories about her life there. I can’t imagine what it was like to grow up in a communist country and come to terms with all the internal conflicts. Even though I loathe many of our positions on war, I’m more thankful than ever that I was born an American. Izabella is excited having just started a writer’s institute for Peace. How brave. Before I snapped the picture, I told her “Look like a writer!”