I recently found out my wife had been lying to me for months – and I could not have been more pleased. In an, albeit small, group of friends I am the youngest (jab), and as the calendar has ticked away, this is our Half-Centennial. Full disclosure, I really don’t like parties birthday or any other, and yes I know – “every party has a pooper…..” that’s my role, and I’m fine with it. However, as the months passed and birthday after birthday went by without incident, I felt both relief as well as anxiety. A wish list for “my” perfect birthday is quite simple: a none working day with my Ladybugs… (wife and two girls) this is my bliss. Boring? To be sure for some, but I’m at peace in simplicity and made whole by the love of these three. I assumed my wish would be granted as normal, and I would enjoy a peaceful day with my girls.
Suffice it to say in fifty years at it, I’ve learned little in life. This wasn’t my first thought though it will still seem somewhat selfish, but when a critical ingredient of my birthday wish list announced she would be doing study abroad in Europe for the fall semester I thought “hey that’s my birthday.” But not before: “great”, “I’m so excited for you – what you’ll see, what you’ll do, the places you’ll go, the lessons you’ll learn, the foods you’ll eat”, “how much does this cost (not really but kind of really)”, and then days or weeks later “hey that’s my birthday.” My wife no doubt sensing a disturbance in the force quickly came up with a plan, the two of us would go to Williamsburg for my birthday and ride the Virginia Capital Trail. This was something on our to-do-list ever since we drove by this random path beside the road in Virginia, and did the Google to see what was going on. After adjusting to a very different version of “birthday” I concluded this could work. Well, I decided I’d go along with it anyway. Months out plans were made, bikes were readied, many miles were ridden, the route set via App – what could go wrong! September 14th Hurricane Florence made landfall three days before our departure. Having lived hours from the NC coast during Hurricane Fran in 1996, and seeing what a hurricane can do that far inland I was very uneasy about a trip to very near coastal Virginia. Though I gave several attempts to steer us in any other direction my very sane, very intelligent, very risk averse, and always solid wife said (and with a growing sense of coming unglued) “We are going and that’s it!” Baffled as to how she of all people couldn’t see my rare spark of wisdom – I gave in and off we went.
Hitting the Road – First Cottage – Victory Monument in Yorktown, VA
I knew it was a roll of the dice. At some point over four days and 165 miles of riding we would get soaked. As the verse says “rain falls on the just and unjust”, but fortunately that goes for sun as well, and that’s all we enjoyed! Four beautiful days of calm after the storm. A birthday miracle! From Williamsburg to Yorktown to Williamsburg – bike. From Williamsburg to Jamestown to Richmond – bike. All around Richmond – walk (save my first Uber ride). From Richmond to Jamestown to Williamsburg – bike. We had achieved our most miles total and most miles in a day, seen many interesting things and places, eaten wonderful food, stayed in a three amazing hotels/cottages, and burned thousands and thousands of calories. Writing this, after the fact, I’m not as clear on the downsides of pedaling all those miles, but I can say as we pulled back into our Williamsburg colonial cottage (on my B-day eve) bum sore, soaked (sweat), hungry, and tired – I loved every minute of it.
52 miles in – Quirk Hotel, Richmond VA – Second Cottage
We arrived back to our room with just enough time to shower and dress for dinner reservations at Kings Arm Tavern (when in Rome). I debated leaving out this next bit knowing it’s, TMI, but…! While showering for dinner I literally flooded the entire bathroom. How, I’m still not sure, but it took every towel, hand towel, and washcloth to soak up the ¼” of water mess I made. “Call and order more towels I’ve made a mess!” Problem solved. A knock at the door signaled the arrival of our much needed towels. I opened it to find my eldest daughter, who should have been in Nashville studying, and my entire family save my brother (who lives in CA), and my dear sweet Dubber who was sleeping in Vienna. All of which were wearing Groucho Marks glasses with the nose! My mother-in-laws idea.
The only thing I could think “why are you all here?” “Why would you alter the course of your lives just to be here for my birthday, its not worth it, I’m not worth it.?.” I was confused by presence and reason, I was thrilled and shocked, I was humbled and thankful, and still a bit empty – one missing piece.
As I have been writing this she has been texting me from Paris on her way to London then to Scotland (our home land) then on to Ireland –What a Fall Break!
It was dinner for a dozen instead of two, and in a last gift of a birthday miracle I got to pay the bill, another perfect birthday requirement of mine. After much good food and many stories of biking and debriefing of journeys to Williamsburg by all attendees it was off to bed to sleep off the miles. The next morning B-day, I was given by my sweet wife and non-studying sweet daughter, an antique tool box from the 1700’s (similar year to our accommodations – all part of her plan). That I was told was for the showroom at the office, and that I helped pick out!
Inside I found an antique letter opener, and a box full of letters, gifts, drawings, dispatches, antique rulers, cards, and even a musical cupcake! I write all the above to get to this – and please forgive me if you find you are not part of the following.
My new letter opener was the tool to aid me in starting a journey of sorts that would take me about a week to complete. First letter, from my wife, always dear and meaningful, she amazes me. Second, from the AWOL student, and oldest daughter, a poem so dear and well done I barely held it together. Third, from the becoming “well’er” traveled youngest daughter a poem and letter that I couldn’t make it though. I tried for a couple of days and eventually made it. These three will be with me when I’m gone they mean the world to me. In dire need of comic relief I read on with the others: from friends who are my dearest and longest to friends who are much more recent in my life but so very dear all the same, and from family who have been in my life and continue to be in spite of all I am and have been. Some might say that’s what family and friends are for, but I know better. I have read the letters and know how blessed I am. Blessed beyond all understanding of this simple aging man. I have been rocked by your thoughtfulness and generosity. I have many times taken for granted your presence in my life, and for that I’m sorry. If for one note I’d be at a loss, for ten, for a dozen, for twenty and even more – I am but thankful. I thank you each and every one. I have tried not to talk about any of these gifts, but rather waited until now so I could thank you all. Each of you giving your time and consideration to this, to me, means the world to me – you have no idea! In life, it’s far more easy to ask someone for a dollar toward, or a gift to, and it takes much less effort on ones part. Asking for some of your time was the request and you all came though. For anyone else I’d understand, and that’s what still amazes me. What a talented bunch you are. I continue to read your cards and continue to laugh and cry. Thank You.
For fifty years now I have lived a charmed life. Things have not always gone to plan, but it wouldn’t be living if they did. I have been blessed beyond all imagination and understanding of life. I marvel at it all. Over this span I have been part of good and bad, and if anyone has felt the bad I am the deepest of sorry, please forgive me. If in any way possible, I hope some may have experienced a ray of light filtered through me into your life. If so, realize I had little to do with it, the filter is but a pass though. All I am is on the shoulders of the giants who came before me. Thank you to all who have been and continue to be part of the first half. Now on to – The 2nd Half
All my Love.
And as the French say “Ba Nammy”