Birthday.

Today my father is 85 — an extremely notable birthday. My father was born in the Depression, son of Romanian immigrants. His life spans through the second World War and incredible social changes, and he’s lived in Michigan, in Europe, in New Mexico, and in New Hampshire where he and my mother raised their three children.

This morning I woke from a dream about the blue Volkswagen Beetle my parents bought in Germany, not long after they were married, and shipped back on the boat to this country. They drove that beetle most of my childhood. We hiked and walked all through my childhood, too, always getting the lay of the land wherever we were. One weekend, the VW’s battery was on the fritz. We pushed the car to get it started, then parked on a hill at the trailhead, hiked, and rolled the car back into life.

Afterward, we stopped in a New Hampshire village, parked again on a hillside, and walked into town. He bought us ice cream cones at an old soda foundation, and we stopped in a used book store. Back at the VW, he had us push the little blue car, then he jumped in and popped the clutch. At the bottom of the hill, engine idling, he unrolled the window and leaned his head out. “Hop in!” he called to his kids.

By twist of fate, my parents, like so many others, are entering very old age in a pandemic, with immense challenges there’s no need for me to reiterate. But on this March morning, I also woke remembering 24 years ago, the day my then-husband and I first made syrup from our 2,000 tap sugarbush. In the cold, I walked back up the house, called my father, and wished him a happy birthday. We had made fifty gallons of syrup, and that sweet golden flow seemed miraculous. A year later, my parents visited and met their first granddaughter.

March is the season of promise that we live through, year after year, ice and gloom yielding syrup. Such sweetness.

Testament

by Hayden Carruth

So often it has been displayed to us, the hourglass
with its grains of sand drifting down,
not as an object in our world
but as a sign, a symbol, our lives
drifting down grain by grain,
sifting away — I’m sure everyone must
see this emblem somewhere in the mind.
Yet not only our lives drift down. The stuff
of ego with which we began, the mass
in the upper chamber, filters away
as love accumulates below. Now
I am almost entirely love. I have been
to the banker, the broker, those strange
people, to talk about unit trusts,
annuities, CDs, IRAs, trying
to leave you whatever I can after
I die. I’ve made my will, written
you a long letter of instructions.
I think about this continually.
What will you do? How
will you live? You can’t go back
to cocktail waitressing in the casino.
And your poetry? It will bring you
at best a pittance in our civilization,
a widow’s mite, as mine has
for forty-five years. Which is why
I leave you so little. Brokers?
Unit trusts? I’m no financier doing
the world’s great business. And the sands
in the upper glass grow few. Can I leave
you the vale of ten thousand trilliums
where we buried our good cat Pokey
across the lane to the quarry?
Maybe the tulips I planted under
the lilac tree? Or our red-bellied
woodpeckers who have given us so
much pleasure, and the rabbits
and the deer? And kisses? And
love-makings? All our embracings?
I know millions of these will be still
unspent when the last grain of sand
falls with its whisper, its inconsequence,
on the mountain of my love below.

12 thoughts on “Birthday.

  1. Thank you for sharing, happy birthday to your father, 85 that’s something! I love when you write about sugar making. My father is a sugar maker or sucrier (we are from Québec) he started to work in cabane à sucre (sugar shack?) when he was 14, he turned 78 last semptember… this season is the last one for him. Did your sugar business was modern or old fashioned?

    • Interesting! We were old-fashioned and slowly became more modern. We bought some very nice equipment from Canada. Our Canadian visitors taught us how to use the equipment and really sugar. Although I haven’t sugared in a few years, on these balmy spring days, I sure miss it.

  2. Tell your father Happy (belated) Birthday and thanks for teaching us about Arkhipov Day. Hopefully, fingers crossed, we will not need a sequel.

  3. Best wishes to your father. I love the thought of the blue Volkswagen and family outings. My daughter-in-law loves Volkswagens and has old one waiting to be restored, a modern Beetle and also an old VW camper van which she is hoping to restore! I have no idea what a sugarbush is, but that sounds like an amazing amount of syrup…

    • Volkswagens are terrific cars — although I’m sure none of us ever even used a seatbelt in this old car. A sugarbush is a forest of maple trees. It was an amazing amount of syrup. Nice to hear from you!

  4. I grew up with one of those old Beetles, too. It was eventually replaced by one of the very first Honda Civic’s, which in my memory was even smaller than the VW. Airbags? Nah. Seatbelts? Who needs ’em? Antilock brakes? WTF is that?? Sometimes I love to think about all the things we didn’t used to worry about.

    • I also don’t remember anyone fiercely dreading a state inspection, either. We got a Toyota pickup inspected that had an appreciable amount of carefully applied duct tape. Honestly, might be a steady decline from the hunter and gatherer days….

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