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I'm most recently a writer.  In the six plus decades of my life, I've been a wife, mother, grandmother, Jill of all trades though mistress of but a few, and most of the time pretty content with my lot.  As a much younger person, I believed I was called to write, but life and living distracted me for most of those decades.  An unwilling transplant from the South,  twenty years ago I unintentionally landed in the geographical center of the US.  Writing came about in part due to the unwillingness, I expect.  When caring for family, gardening, and renovating a century-old house failed to provide sufficient creative outlets, I turned to the one thing I always intended to do.  Eight titles later, I'm grateful I found myself while Lost in the Plains!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Here's to Birthdays--Like 'em or Not

I'll start right off by telling you that today is my sixty-first birthday.  That sounds pretty intimidating, even to me.  Last year, on my milestone sixtieth, I declared it was only a number, after all.  This year it seems more like an age.  The next milestone involves Social Security and Medicare, after all.  Ugh!

That out of the way, I'd like to revisit last year's birthday.  It lasted a full two weeks and was by far the best celebration I've ever had of that kind.  Months in advance, I started to plan what we decided would be my Sixtieth Birthday Road Trip, two weeks of going places and doing things I had wanted to do but hadn't gotten around to.  Not a "bucket list" really, but a list of wishes which seemed to be  pushed further and further out of reach by the business of life.

We set off on my actual birthday, first taking the route to Florida which after thirteen years here in the Plains has become familiar.  Two days through Arkansas and Alabama, and finally into North Florida, where the celebration really began with lunch at Sonny's Barbeque in Marianna, FL.  When you see the signs for Sonny's you know you're close to home.  Home in this case being Tallahassee, where I know without a doubt I lived my best life. 

Three days there to visit family and friends and worship in the church where we were married, we headed for the coast on a rainy Sunday evening.  Now the trip had really begun for me, the part where I would touch my roots, revisit my past and see faces I hadn't seen in years, for possibly the last time.  Our first destination was Bodie Island Lighthouse, a place I'd never been, but which loomed large in my family's legend.  This small light, just north of the much better known Cape Hatteras, was the stuff of my paternal grandfather's history.  As a small boy, for a time he had lived on Bodie Island, where his father served as assistant light keeper.  He had told wonderful tales of his life there, stories which appealed to the romantic in me even as a small child.  I'd been given photographs by other family members who'd visited, but I wanted to see for myself the tiny duplex cottage, and feel the ocean breeze on my face once more. 

It as a perfect day, clear sky, brilliant sunlight, warm for late February.  We paid our visit to the museum which today occupies the keepers' quarters, and then I trekked across the dunes to get a good, long look at the Atlantic.  Funny to think how I had taken that endless body of gray green water for granted all my young life.  A child of the Piedmont, trips to the coast were frequent.  I had family in Newport News and Portsmouth.  Fishing off the pier at Buckrow or visits to swim in the surf were nothing out of the ordinary.  I spent several summer weeks at 4-H camp at Virginia Beach making the kind of memories only an adolescent girl can make.  But I'd never taken time to appreciate that ocean as it should be.  Now, at Bodie, I took a moment to pay homage to my ancestors who'd sailed from England and Ireland to these very beaches, to recognize the enormity and gravity of their undertaking and give thanks for whatever motivated their daring venture to a new world.

By that evening, we were on our way to Virginia.  In Farmville, where I graduated high school and spent my brief college career at Longwood, we visited my uncle and aunt, now both near ninety.  It was the best visit possible, filled with reminiscences and gentle laughter.  I treasure it because both of them were still well enough to enjoy their life of sixty-some years together, despite the limitations imposed by age and failing health.  I want to remember them as they were during those hours, in case that was the last such visit we ever share.  They played a huge part in my upbringing, helping my young widowed mother rebuild her life, and they modeled for me the best kind of marriage, one based on not only love, but mutual respect and unconditional support.

The day would get even better, as it turned out.  Several years earlier, I had been called out of the blue by a friend from childhood I hadn't seen since I was ten-years-old.  (See Those Who Weave for more about this.)  Ronnie had insisted that if I ever got back to the area, we must get together to talk over "old times."  Now I wasn't sure I remembered the "old times" as he did, but this was another of those opportunities that might never come again. 

We arranged to meet Ronnie and his brother Mike, who is my age and was the best companion a little girl could have at five or six, at the cemetery of Jetersville Christian Church where much of my mother's family is buried.  Ronnie knew I would go there, if nowhere else. You see, our family settled around what would become the tiny village of Jetersville in the 1720's on a six hundred acre land grant from the British crown. They remained through four wars and any number of generations, and when I lived there as a child, we were related by whatever distance to almost every other family  in the village.  That's the place, no matter where I roam, I must always consider home. 

I had no idea what to expect.  I hadn't seen these now old men in nearly fifty years.  We had been childhood playmates, but they knew little of my adult life and I knew less of theirs.  So how is it that at first sight, on looking into the eyes of my childhood pal, I recognized him instantly as the friend he had been all those lifetimes ago?  We cried, of course, and we hugged and laughed, both a little relieved, I expect.  The subsequent visit, at a little diner which had been a frequent haunt during the final years of my life in Jetersville as a teenager and young wife and mother, lasted three hours and touched off memories I hadn't known I'd stored.  It was the highest of the high points of my trip.  I realized that while I can never go home again, home lives on in those of us who remember those days for the gifts they were, a time when no matter what adult realities burdened our innocence, we were free to play for mindless hours, to sit under ancient oak trees and dream of futures we might never have, to mold golden memories which would reinforce our faith in our world and ourselves, even when the soon-to-be present threatened to tarnish them.

There were other good times on the rest of the trip, but that's another post.  Touching the ground walked by my parents and grandparents, and by my own young self, looking into faces from the past and being recognized only as one can be by someone who "knew you when," was my birthday gift to myself.  It made turning that corner past sixty a joy I can treasure for the rest of my life, made getting older seem much more like an adventure worth pursuing, if there's more of that kind of thing to come.  As I've said before, I have come late to realizing a lot of my dreams, but then again maybe I'm not late.  Maybe this is just meant to be my time.

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