Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Sepia-Toned Afternoon

Birthdays were always high holy days in my family. The celebrant chose the meals.

Which means I shouldn't have been surprised when  I got to my parents' house Monday and Mom announced that today's lunch would be my birthday lunch, even though it was a couple days away. Not only that, but she gave me two choices, knowing they're both life-long favorites of mine: cheeseburgers or fried chicken.

And don't you know that despite having had cheeseburgers for my chosen birthday dinner my entire childhood and beyond, I requested fried chicken this year. "What else?" she wanted to know. Gherkins and clementines was all I desired to accompany my thigh and wings.

"I'll have some potato salad with mine," my Dad announces from his chair on the screened porch, making it clear that he thought gherkins and clementines inadequate sides for fried yard bird. It was a fabulous birthday repast (what meal that ends with greasy fingers isn't?) made even better because it was with the two of them.

It was a perfectly gorgeous day to be on the Northern Neck - mid-70s temperatures and a spirited breeze off the Rappahannock - and after I'd planted some moonflowers and hung some pictures, we all settled on the porch to enjoy the afternoon.

When the topic turned to the current administration (as it always does when you put three lifelong liberals together), I didn't expect to hear my Dad say, "I wish I was going to be around to see how history treats Trump."

I understood where he was coming from because Dad's been a lifelong student of history, meaning most of his pleasure reading is about the past, especially war and politics. As a kid, I just thought that was because I had the coolest and smartest Dad ever.

So naturally he's curious about how this era will be depicted by future historians.

But it turned out that his comment came from a deeper place. An athletic and active man all his life, he's been in a lot of pain lately from a bad knee and back problems and it's finally starting to get to him. After climbing a ladder to hang the refilled hummingbird feeder for him, I asked if there was anything else he wanted.

"Yes, a new body!" he admitted with no irony. That set me wondering what age he'd like his body to be again and he said twenty-two.

"I was 22 when I met your mother," he said by way of explanation and then turned to Mom. "Like that picture of us upstairs from when we were in our bathing suits at the beach when we first met." That black and white photo is a family classic of my 6' tall father standing next to my 5' mother, long before they knew they'd have six daughters and stay happily married for over six decades.

Yet again I was reminded of how fortunate some people are to meet their "person" so early on in life and stay with them through all that comes with children, careers and changing interests. It's a luck I never knew.

Talking about Dad's years abusing his body playing baseball and softball, he said that when Mom started coming to his games, she didn't even know how the game was played. She was quick to defend herself, though, saying that her family had always listened to baseball games on the radio, but she'd never had any visuals to go with it.

This was new intel for me. Baseball had been a big deal in Mom's family growing up?

Next thing I knew, she's telling me how my grandfather O'Donnell (known to us kids as "Papa") started playing on an Irish baseball team (because of course all the Irish kids would have played together back in the '20s) when he was just a kid.

The team's name? "Little Potatoes Hard to Peel."

Every time I see my parents, they make me laugh, tell me stories I didn't know or remind me of things I no longer recall.

The best part of my birthday isn't a surprise fried chicken and gherkin lunch, it's that I'm still lucky enough to have these two wildly eccentric people in my life.

Now that's a gift.

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