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Notes from a Western Life
Ranging Far and Wide on the High Plains and Beyond
Linda M. Hasselstrom's Blog

Extending the Celebration: my birthday month

Linda admiring a glass birthday turtle from Suzan.

. . .
I highly recommend the Birthday Month, introduced to me by my good friend Suzan.

The idea of extending a birthday is not about getting more material goods as gifts. Instead, the extension allows me time to accept the gifts that arrive every day, special occasion or not.

Suzan and I have joked that we adopted the birthday month because, as we age, celebrations take longer. When we were twenty, we could pack enough fun into one day of birthday celebration to last us a whole year. But aging and, one hopes, increasing maturity, mean one learns to slow down, to take more time to appreciate just what “fun” can mean.

One might do this in an orderly fashion: a Birth Day in one’s twenties and thirties, for example, followed by a Birthday Week in one’s forties and fifties. We weren’t that organized; I leapt right to the Birthday Month as soon as she suggested it and now that I am officially “in my seventies,” I find the concept particularly appropriate.

Instead of material goods, the gifts I receive derive from the way we usually behave on our birthdays. A birthday is traditionally a time to feel special, to relax into enjoyment of the day, whatever festivities are planned. I try to give in to impulses that take me out of my daily routine. In the darkness of my bedroom, I reflect on age and what it has brought.

Celebrating my birthday month, I’ve begun each day since my natal day with a short reflection on what it means to be 70 years old plus one day, and so forth. I’ve recalled my mother’s stories about my birth. She said she was really tired of being pregnant and unwieldy in the heat of a Texas July. Her doctor had planned a vacation, so with her agreement, he induced my birth.

Birthdays after we moved to the ranch sometimes meant that after a day of haying, and after eating supper, opening gifts and sampling the birthday cake, we would drive into “The Hills” and enjoy the cool of the woods.

Extending my birthday this year has taken several forms so far. First, yes, I’ve bought one or two things I might not have bought otherwise. But I followed my usual practice of giving to the local second hand outlets more than I purchased new. I learned this from a student at Christian College for Women in the 1960s. She said that every time her daddy bought her a new dress, which was often, he marched her to her closet and she had to choose right then two dresses to discard. Then he marched her down to the sharecroppers’ cabins on their Arkansas farm and she gave her dresses to one of the girls her age.

More birthday celebrations: I took the scenic route to Hill City to deliver a package to a friend, walked through his gardens and enjoyed a long, relaxed visit. And he’d baked me a cake! When a meeting was cancelled, I spent extra time in the library, taking notes on my day and people-watching. And while I watched people, I tried not to be critical. The thirteen-year-old girl in the off-the-shoulder blouse that exposed her bra strap and most of her left bosom tested my resolve greatly!

I re-read all my birthday cards and wrote several letters to friends and relatives. Looked through a magazine and found a recipe for roasted vegetables and shrimp that I served at lunch today.

Made honey butter, a treat I recall from my childhood. (1/4 to ½ C honey to each stick of butter. At room temperature, cream together until well mixed. Store in refrigerator. Heavenly on toast, biscuits, even potatoes.) I seem to remember honey peanut butter too, hmm.

Headed home from town, I took the road along the creek that I never take because it’s often hazardous with deer, joggers and golf carts. I drove five miles under the speed limit, mightily frustrating the folks behind me. Inhaled the scent of mint growing along the creek, the flavor of hay curing in the fields. Heard a golfer curse. Laughed. Remembered making this drive once very late at night and knowing I was nearly out of gas; remembered that I got to within a mile of home, tucked my car into a side road and walked across the pasture in the dark, hoping I didn’t fall into a badger hole.

With Jerry, I sat on the patio (an elegant misnomer for the concrete slab outside our basement) and just looked at the tomato plants, honeysuckle bushes, bachelor buttons and sweet William, potted herbs, and other plants. OK, I lasted two minutes before I leapt up to water them, but I plan to repeat the experiment every night until I can sit still for longer than five minutes. Listen to the nighthawks peent! and boom. Inhale the sweet scent of autumn clematis. Sway with the breeze through the bee balm and black-eyed susans and sage.

I’m a collector of apt quotations I can never remember when I’m speaking, so I keep them in files. Here’s one that summarizes how I’ve spent my days since my birthday.

Go on listening, carefully, respectfully. After a while the earth feels free to speak. It's the way it is in a trance, when everything and everyone speaks freely. The things you'd least expect speak. There they are: speaking. Bones, thorns. Pebbles, lianas. Little bushes and budding leaves. The scorpion. the line of ants dragging a botfly back to the anthill. The butterfly with rainbow wings. The hummingbird. The mouse up a branch speaks, and circles in the water. Lying quietly, with closed eyes, the storyteller is listening. Thinking: let everyone forget me. Then one of my souls leaves me. And the Mother of something that is all around me comes to visit me. I hear, I am beginning to hear. Now I can hear. One and all have something to tell. That is, perhaps, what I have learned by listening. The beetle, as well. The little stone you can hardly see, it's so small, sticking out of the mud. Even the louse you crack in two with your fingernail has a story to tell. If only I could remember everything I've been hearing. You'd never tire of listening to me, perhaps.

--- Vargas Llosa, The Storyteller

Happy birthday to you, too.

--- Linda M. Hasselstrom, aged 70 years and 5 days

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For more . . .

See the Home Page Message Archives to read Linda's essay on friendship and aging. Look for "The Glitter Phase of Life" written for the fall equinox, September, 2011. This essay includes two poems inspired by Linda's friendship with Suzan, mentioned in the blog above-- "Dear Suzan" and "We're Sixty-Eight."

See the archived Home Page Message "Summer’s End: From Magpie Mind to Turtle Tranquility," written for October, 2012, to learn about Linda's connection to turtles.

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