These days it seems the thing to do on your birthday is not to ask for nor expect gifts or a party; rather, people are choosing favourite charities and asking their friends to make donations.
This is a great idea, because you can be sure you’re giving something you know will be liked and appreciated. They wouldn’t be doing it otherwise.
There may be times when you don’t agree with the person’s choice of charity; if that’s the case, I’m really not sure of what to do. If they’re not a really close friend, you can probably get away with waiting till their birthday and wishing them the best on social media or something. Luckily for me, the requests have been for causes I can get behind, so it’s nice to be able to do something for someone who needs it, in the name of a friend.
So when my best friend, Judith, sent me an invitation to her 60th birthday party (I know she knew I couldn’t attend as I really can’t zip down the California for a Sunday brunch, —at least not until I win the lottery, and and even then I’d have to regret because it takes too long to jet back from the Maldives), but she had this note added to the invite:
In lieu of gifts, Judith would like to create a memory box that holds notes/letters from the friends and family in her life. To honor her wish for her 60th birthday, please write a note/letter that shares moments, memories, how she knows you and any precious messages you would like to share.
Definitely tougher than coughing up a hundred bucks for a charity.
But that’s what she wants, so that’s what she’ll get.
October 10, 2018
How are you? I am fine.
Remember how we always used to start letters when we were younger?
Actually that might not have been you.
I think it was my friend Jody, in Chicago. In 1966, when my dad had died suddenly, my mother decided to move us back to Long Island-to be closer to her family, and to start her life over (I’m pretty sure she also wanted to get away from those “god damned tornadoes” of the Midwest).
So we drove from Chicago to New York in her new speedy little ride, a 1967 Mustang fastback (and I’ll jump ahead here…for our sake, it’s a good thing that car didn’t learn to talk), my bro, me, and panting, puking Pookie in the back seat. It was truly the dog days of summer (in more ways than one), and by the time we settled into our rented condo
on Three Mile Harbor Road as we waited for our house to be built, we only had a few days before school began.
The school, in its wisdom, placed me into a classroom with a Mrs. Marshall, a widow with a couple of kids just a year or two younger than us.
That first day of class was terrifying. Separation anxiety, I suppose, from my only parent. A new school in a new town. Third grade; boys, girls, new building, new world, new rules. I didn’t know anyone, and certainly didn’t have the lay of the land. And I had blue cat’s eye glasses.
And that was the day I met you.
I don’t remember the exact details, but between you and my other classmates and Mrs. Marshall, I think I settled in pretty quickly. You made me feel welcome, and before I knew it, I was a kid in the crowd.
Much later—just a few years ago—someone told me that everyone thought my dad had committed suicide. I’ll tell you honestly, to this day, I don’t know if he did or not, but what I do know is that I don’t know what you thought about that. You never said anything, even if it had been dinner table chatter at your house (which I doubt it was). Come to think of it, you still haven’t.
I don’t think it matters to you one way or the other. And I mean that in a good way.
You always tell people about how you remember what a good reader I was, how when Mrs. Marshall lost her voice, she asked me to read Ellen Tebbets to the class…what you probably don’t realize is that it was the confidence a friend like you gave me to be able to stand up in front of my new world and speak. Even to this day, when you tell that story, it makes me feel good.
How we became such fast friends I’ll never know—
because we really are quite a bit different—in our backgrounds and the paths we’ve taken, but for a time there we were inseparable—Brownies and boys and my pink canopy bed in the messiest room on the planet—a room where you had to sit and watch me clean on Saturday afternoons before we could go outside, but you were always there.
Did I put a hamster on your head? I think I might have. I’m sorry.
Then junior high and high school, we grew apart and then came back together over and
over: marching and summer band (hiding a bug in the fog), babysitting here and there, drives to the beach at night, sometimes topless (you know what I mean) and more boys…college, apartments, bars and clubs (at home and in the city) and road trips
(that crazy drive down to Florida and that time I noodged you into a helicopter at the Grand Canyon)…so many great memories I couldn’t possibly capture them all.
Somehow we got from there to Chez Panisse and Good Vibrations (thank you, thank you for both!). I think we’re pretty much past the point of no return; we’ll now be friends to the end, that’s for sure.
Put your drink down now, because I am now going to toss a few words at you and get you to shoot something out of your nose. Then I will get semi-serious.
Put your pants on!
Oh look, another Greek diner. (what the hell was that?!)
Don’t ask, don’t tell. (this pertains to Passover, Coney Island, french fries and dates)
Ooh, I know, let’s put my purse in the trunk!
The “loft” in the Mellowmouth. It smelled.
The time your dad found the crack. (to those who don’t know us, this sounds bad, I know, and it was, but it’s not what you’re thinking)
The tic-tac-toe chicken in Chinatown.
Mr. Budd’s fingers. (I hope he’s not reading this….)
That time you set up a brunch restaurant in your apartment in Queens. The neighbors loved it!
Murder burgers. At 4 am.
Best advice: Always turn the pepper spray away from you.
And of course, Squirrel. Nut. Zippers.
OK, now that you have taken a breath and dried your face, here are some of the lessons you have taught me over the years.
Laughter. Well, yeah. (see above) At ourselves and just plain out loud. We inevitably have a good time, and somehow we’re able to talk ourselves into doing things we’d never do otherwise.
And tears. We’re pretty much opposites on this one. You’re not afraid to cry, and I rarely do. You taught me a valuable lesson last year at your birthday dinner, when we were singing and you got verklempt (I just double checked and yes that is how you spell it) and I urged you not to cry, and you said to not tell you not to–that if you wanted to cry that was fine. And you know what? You were right. We just show our emotions in different ways.
Trust: if you can’t trust a friend, who can you trust? But it goes beyond that, and sometimes we forget that the person who has our back most often isn’t always living in the same house as us. Thanks for the ear, the honesty, the support and the feedback. Thanks for listening too-all those hours and pages that will probably never get made into a movie. Or a book. But you never know, right?
Generosity: Generous with your time. Generous with your advice. Generous and thoughtful for birthdays, anniversaries, and just because. And of course, generous with your hospitality–as the queen of couch surfing, I’ve had the pleasure of testing many of your finest beds, meals, cars, work perks and everything in between.
Talent: Who can pick up almost any instrument–piano (well don’t pick one up), flute, and a whole bunch in between and play them like she’s been at it forever? Who can sing and dance too? Who can turn her thumb inside out??
Friendship: I saved this for last, because to me, it’s the most important and I think it is the overarching element that ties all the other pieces together. People come and go, relationships come and go, but friendship endures throughout. Sure, there are times when a little break is necessary, but it makes the re-connection that much sweeter.
I was looking at the class picture from third grade (and several others) and realizing that we’re both still connected to most of the kids in the faded photos. Is that weird, that after more than 40 or 50 years, many of us are all still really close? Something tells me that’s not the norm.
The one thing, though, that’s almost constant in all of them, is you, my dear Judith. Which makes me realize: you’ve always been there for me, and you always will be.
Now if we can manage to stay out of jail just a little while longer….
I love you!