I celebrated a birthday last weekend. It wasn't a milestone birthday in the sense of marking a new decade or half-decade, but for reasons I'll get to in a moment, this year feels like a significant one to commemorate all the same.
Not that I really need significant to celebrate; I just like to celebrate. I've never understood those people who say their birthday is just another day. Maybe it's the five year old in me, but I want my birthday to be special. Not necessarily attention-must-be-paid-to-me special (although, okay, I do love opening cards and reading Facebook posts on the big day), but definitely not-my-usual-routine special.
This year my birthday fell on a Saturday, when plenty of not-my-usual-routine options were available. The day started with a surprise gift from Ray—a handmade wooden box shaped like a camera, with a camera store gift card hidden inside. Then, with his workshop cleared of anything I wasn't supposed to see, Ray gave me a sneak preview of the fairy house he's building for Camp Newaygo's Enchanted Forest event.
A little later, we took a drive to Big Rapids, where we stopped in at Authorpalooza, a book fair where some of my writer friends were selling and signing their books. You'll hear more about that event in an upcoming post. For now, I'll just say it was a delight to see a roomful of people talking about books on a sunny and unusually warm day when so many other possibilities beckoned.
Soon, those sunny-day possibilities beckoned to us, and we left Authorpalooza to stroll along the Riverwalk, shoot a few pictures and watch chunks of ice careening down the Muskegon River like tubers on a summer afternoon. We capped off the day with dinner and Drinkin' Buddy Session Ale at Newaygo Brewing Co., followed by cake, ice cream and birthday-card-opening at home.
Definitely a not-my-usual-routine day. In fact, an altogether glorious way to spend birthday #67. Which brings me to some of the reasons I'm feeling especially celebratory this year.
First, it was fifty years ago that I turned seventeen in American Samoa, during the year I chronicle in my memoir, Mango Rash. The night of my poolside birthday party at Pago Pago Intercontinental Hotel stands out in memory not only because I was heartsick over the boyfriend who was moving back to the States, but also because I was surrounded by a cadre of loyal and big-hearted friends—Samoan and American—who embraced me in spite of my eccentricities.
In that Samoa year, I came to understand impermanence as never before—through a house fire, a hurricane and numerous wrenching departures. But I also forged some of my most durable friendships. Val, my constant companion in Samoa, is still a cherished friend. Though I can no longer amble over to her house in my flip-flops—she's in North Carolina, I'm in Michigan—we keep tabs on each other on Facebook and catch up with long phone conversations about once a month. Wendy, too, is still dear to my heart, as are many more Samoa comrades and friends from other times and places who've stuck with me through the years (plus all my new friends here in Newaygo!).
That same year, fifty years ago, is significant for another reason. In the late summer of 1966, I was first diagnosed with cancer. Every day of every year since, I marvel that I'm still here. Now, with the half-century anniversary of that diagnosis approaching, I have even more reason to rejoice. I wish I could report that the past 50 years have been completely cancer-free. They haven't been—I've had a couple of recurrences—but the last episode was 25 years ago. Another milestone to mark.
Interestingly, in light of my usual willingness to celebrate almost anything, I've never been one to commemorate my cancer anniversaries. It's partly because I refuse to let the disease define me, and maybe also because I'm also a touch superstitious, afraid that making a fuss about my good health might jinx it. This year, though, I can't resist taking note of these anniversaries (especially if extra cake and ice cream might be involved!).
My sister-in-law Joy recently reminded me of yet another anniversary to observe this year. It was on my seventh birthday, sixty years ago, that Joy and my brother had the first date that led to their enduring marriage. Joy remembers that night for how upset my parents were that my 21-year-old, med-school-bound brother had skipped his little sister's birthday dinner to go out with a girl who was still in high school. All I remember is how entranced I was with Joy when she and my brother made a brief appearance that night. With her cat-eye glasses and shoulder-length pageboy, she was the most glamorous creature I'd ever laid eyes on.
When she and my brother married later that year, Joy and I became sisters—forget the in-law part. And like most sisters, we've had both tense and tender times. But lately, tender has far outweighed tense, and I've realized I truly love Joy as a sister. So this year, I celebrate the strength of our sixty-year sisterhood.
As long as I've got so many big things to celebrate this year, why not celebrate some small ones, too? I'm starting a list, and after reading mine, maybe you'll make a list of your own and share it here. Here's the beginnings of mine:
In 2016, I hereby resolve to celebrate:
Written from the heart,
from the heart of the woods
Read the introduction to HeartWood here.
Nan Sanders Pokerwinski, a former journalist, writes memoir and personal essays, makes collages and likes to play outside. She lives in West Michigan with her husband, Ray.