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How I Spent My Dad's 109th Birthday

Updated: Jul 25, 2023


I started the day with a piece of writing about him, a place I imagined he might want to spend his birthday, on the back of a horse. He might want to meander along, checking the groves of peach trees on the family farm, kicking open a watermelon and eating it in the field, before heading to the edge of Willard Bay. The smell of sweetgrass, Golden eagles squawking in a tall sycamore, a great horned owl swooping low in search of kill. He might head back to the farmhouse for a celebratory dinner of Brunswick Stew, pork belly gravy, a dip of a homemade biscuit to slurp up the goodness, before his mother would bring a cake to the table so a rendition of Happy Birthday would complete the day.


Then I turned my attention to a can of Poetry Plum paint in a matte finish to give my foyer a long overdue facelift. Two coats of edging and rolling on the walls and near late afternoon, soft light fell on the stained glass window that pops now. I love to create beauty. Words, color, comfort in furnishings-it all matters to my goal of creating a space that honors the past and is pleasing in the present.


My husband came in from work, checked the mail, and sat with me on the porch while I waited for the first coat of paint to cure. He handed me a postcard. This is to notify you that a marker has been ordered for Jeffrey Whitaker and will be placed at St. Stephens cemetery in 4 to 6 weeks. Seems appropriate to receive this message on this particular day.


My cousin on my dad's side of the family called. I wonder now why I didn't mention that it was my dad's birthday, but I didn't. We talked about our children, grandchildren. One of her grandsons is named for her father. She said he wears her dad's name well, welcoming and warm. She missed her class reunion this year, a big one, she said. I told her that I have gone to very few of my reunions at an all-girls school. I remembered when I was sixteen and visited her family. I stayed in her room, pictures of her in a cheerleader's uniform just off the canopy bed I slept in while there. She had so much that I did not and I based envy, resentment on the fact that her dad was alive and mine was not. But I didn't say any of that, because that was so long ago. We just talked, as I'm sure our dad's did when they called one another or saw one another, about family, work, memories of harvest and planting.


I texted with a friend whose daughter is going through a particularly rough patch. sent her a picture of a new chandelier that we had worked on installing this week. I found deep gratitude then in knowing that these things are not what makes me happy but they are borne out of my contentedness with my life at this juncture. And, I conveyed that I hoped for the same for her daughter, my godchild.


Just before turning in I checked social media as I do every night to get a handle on where my thirty-something children may be without hovering over them with text messages. I saw that my oldest, the one who looks so much like my dad, was in Pittsburg at a Phish concert. I wanted to tell him to be safe-have fun, but be safe.


The last message from him before I closed my eyes, "I love you."

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