My birthday crept up on me several days ago, as birthdays like to do, and despite my dread about being older, I enjoyed the day.
It was a different sort of birthday.
My mom is gone.
And while there were a bunch of birthdays in the second half of my life where my mom did not think to or remember to call me on my birthday, and so in a way it was not entirely different not to hear from her, it was different this year because I couldn’t be angry about it. I couldn’t be angry with her.
Well, I could, but there was no longer a point.
And so I was sad about not being able to be angry with her for forgetting about me on my birthday, and I was sad, also, about not hearing from her like I did on about 75% of my birthdays, from birth on.
She used to make me strawberry shortcake for my breakfast on my birthday.
Not in a many years, of course, since I haven’t lived at home for much of my life now, but it’s still a special memory. And with all the strawberries our garden bombarded us with this June, I had my share of strawberry shortcake, strawberry cream cake, strawberries with whipped cream, strawberry rhubarb pie, and warm just-picked strawberries with the dirt brushed off while standing in the middle of our ever-larger strawberry patch. I’ve also got a lot of strawberries in the freezer, which will be transformed into jams and pie filling and other goodies on a day less humid than this one.
But I’ve gotten off track.
I worked on my birthday. I’m glad for that. While I am normally not one to want much attention, especially about my awkward age (pretty much all of my ages are awkward, come to think of it), on this birthday, I finally recognized it – the unrelenting birthday wishes from my coworkers – for what it was.
Or, at least, like-a-whole-lot.
It was verbal hugs. And I successfully grappled with the urge to run off and hide. I think I conducted myself pretty maturely for a change, actually.
I said thank you.
And I relaxed into the warmth.
Toward the end of the work day, while I was slightly bent over a big bowl of cole slaw in the making, I looked up to see our executive chef and our sous chef standing before me with a small cake and a bouquet of flowers.
The flowers were blue hyacinths and Queen Anne’s Lace.
The cake – from the bakery in the store where I work – was a strawberry cream cake.
I came close to crying, but I pushed it off.
I am so fortunate to be where I am right now. I am working in a store that existed, in smaller form, in the town where I was born and raised, right down the street from the house I grew up in.
I get to cook and make food.
I know my mother was happy about me working there. About me cooking. Preparing food.
I work with some awesome men and women, and in the women, particularly, I feel like I’ve found an extended family of sorts. In my mind I am sometimes in an old farmhouse kitchen, clad in my long dress and apron, baking bread for the week (though I don’t do any baking in my job), and putting food up for the winter and feeding my large family. It’s not so much the food prep, though, that I love. It’s the conversation. The stories. The advice. The support.
It’s a mother/sister/daughter/friend sort of thing.
My words don’t do it justice.
I just know I am happy to go to work.
I shared the small cake with my dad, and then went home to my wonderful little family.
They’d made me a card, and poured me a glass of pomegranate lemonade, and then gave me my gift.
Now, usually my gift includes chocolate. Good chocolate. Favorite chocolate.
But I didn’t want chocolate. I told Bill that I’d prefer no chocolate mainly because it’s July and it’s too warm for chocolate.
I asked, or hinted broadly, but meekly because I didn’t want to ASK for anything, for a Barnes & Noble gift card.
And that’s what they gave me.
This morning, just a couple hours ago, that’s where I went.
And I didn’t hurry.
I’m off today and tomorrow, and usually I have about eight million things I need to/want to/feel-like-I-should do on my days off, so I try to cram as much in as possible, stretching my multi-tasking super powers to their very limits. I’d originally planned to make a bunch of jams and canned stuff until I learned that the day would be very hot and humid. The strawberries, frozen, will keep.
So off I went.
All by myself.
On a shopping trip just for me.
It crossed my mind that I could probably buy Alex and Julia each a book with part of my gift card.
I waved at the thought as it continued past. I decided to do what I was supposed to do – buy books for me.
Several weeks ago, when the school year was just about finished, both my kids came home with – horrors – summer reading and math work to do. I thought about how wonderful it would be if someone told me I HAD to read some books – new books – over the summer, and then wondered what I’d read. On my personal Facebook page, I asked for suggestions.
I got all kinds of great ideas, too. I selected a few to look for – couldn’t purchase all of them – and headed – slowly – into the store.
I emphasize the “slowly” portion of my day.
I don’t walk slowly well. It could be from going for walks with my briskly striding grandfather when I was small and had to scurry to keep up. It could be from hurrying to get to class before the second bell in high school. It could be from my first job as a busgirl in a busy restaurant. I don’t know.
But anyway, I tend not to meander.
This morning, however, I chose to take my time. I chose to stop and read alllllll the titles on this table and that table and those New Release shelves and alllllll those bargain book shelves.
I went slow.
In the cooking section I came very close to buying Michael Ruhlman’s latest book Egg. Very close. But I opted to go for less expensive quantity, rather than a single hardcover. But I still think I will add that book to my shelves. Maybe for Christmas.
Anyway, I explored some more, picking books off shelves and reading random pages to see if the writing was what I was looking for right now. I saw any number of biographies I’d like to read, and some histories, OH I FORGOT TO LOOK IN THE SPORTS SECTION! (They rearranged the book store probably two years ago and I still can’t figure out where they put Sports)
Anyway, I finally ended up in Fiction. And that’s what I bought.
And I had to narrow it down – I didn’t want to go over the gift card amount, though, of course, when I got home and proudly announced I’d only gone over by twenty seven cents, he said “Oh, I wouldn’t have cared if you went over by twenty seven dollars,” I thought GAAAAAAAAAAA!!! I COULD HAVE BOUGHT THAT OTHER BOOK, TOO!
Anyway, after slow consideration, and the knowledge that the other books will still be out there in the book world waiting for me later, I chose three books.
Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth
Laurel Corona’s The Mapmaker’s Daughter
Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible
Now, I have a confession to make.
One of the criteria when I was making my choice was…well, you know when you buy fruit at the grocery store and you’re supposed to choose fruit that feels heavy for its size? That’s kind of what I did when I was perusing all the books. Even if something looked kind of interesting, I didn’t want any skinny books. In fact, I very nearly bought Stephen King’s Under the Dome BECAUSE it weighed more than a watermelon and I knew I’d be in for an awesome LONG read.
So, yeah, all three books are a good thickness and don’t have enormous print.
I am laughing as I confess this.
I’ve never read The Good Earth, and I felt like it was long overdue, so that’s how I settled on that one.
I’ve read some of Barbara Kingsolver’s books – two or three – and my favorite is her nonfiction Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, which is curled along the edges of the cover because I’ve read it and reread it so much.
And I think I’d heard of The Mapmaker’s Daughter because there was a sense of “Oh…yeah…” when I saw it on the shelf.
So that’s what I bought.
And I meandered slowly to the cash (and credit or debit card) register, scanned my gift card, dug out my additional twenty seven cents, and wandered slowly to my car, bag of books in my hand.
Then I went to Trader Joe’s and bought reading snacks: three kinds of cheese and a baguette.
It’s 1:18 as I type this, and now that I am done with sharing this portion of my day, I think it’s time to close my laptop and open one of those books.