Saturday December 15, 2012

DALTON

There is no trick to birthdays. Keep breathing for 365 days from your last one, and -- poof -- there’s that cake again with another sneaky little candle As the ranks of candles swell, the size of the cake diminishes in inverse proportion to the expansion of the celebrant’s girth Not fair, I say!

I’ve earned every crumb of that cake by dint of sheer willpower in hanging on to this slightly tilting planet as it lurches around the sun. The spin would send some senior citizens into paroxysms of vertigo; but I’m made of stronger stuff.

I may have to crawl up the attic stairs on my hands and knees to dig out the boxes of Christmas ornaments; but I am otherwise unbowed.

Some folks pretend to stop having birthdays after the age of 39, which I personally think is crazy. Like, who are you fooling? Besides, there’s all that math to keep track of in your head I can barely keep track of how old I am now; but it’s mostly because I don’t feel "old" -- whatever that means. I am certainly not ashamed of when I was born or when I graduated from high school.

I just don’t understand all the fuss associated with aging in our culture. My shoes may have gone from fashionable to comfortable; but I am still the person I was when I walked out of college and into a career in teaching. I still love reading books more than playing sports; but I can hold my own in a cutthroat game of "Clue" or "Candyland" I can name all the plants in my perennial bed, and remember my children’s birthdays and approximate ages.

I love to stay up late reading or working on the computer, and I appreciate every new morning when I wake up on the right side of the grass.

Birthdays, bring ‘em on; they don’t scare me. What does scare me sometimes is the saggy, blurry face that greets me in the mirror; but then I find my glasses and say hello to my old self once again.

I think the hardest challenge of aging is not birthdays. Birthdays are to celebrate the anniversary of new life and new beginnings (and did I mention cake?) The toughest parts of our lives are the 364 days that come between birthdays. That’s when all the challenges happen. People leave us. Children grow up and go off to seek their fortunes. Friends move away, or die, and the Christmas card list keeps shrinking. And stuff happens. Budgets tighten, houses need repairs, and people need updates too.

It’s harder to travel because being squeezed in a silver sardine can, and dealing with restrictive airport environments across multiple time zones and cultural divides sucks out some serious stamina before I ever reach my destination.

Some silver linings include: Facebook, online genealogy databases, and beer. Without leaving the comfort of the black leather computer chair, I have linked up with old and new friends, and discovered hundreds of relatives -- living and dead. I can read daily and weekly newspapers from the west and south of Ireland, learning what my life would be like if my ancestors had not boarded those scary, overcrowded ships.

My grandmother’s town, tiny little Kilmihil in West Clare, even has its own website. I can visit any time I choose -- day or night -- and look for familiar names and faces.

Oh, you want to know about the beer? Sorry, I don’t have time to explain that guilty pleasure just now. I’ll save that for another time -- perhaps another month or year from now. Presently, I have to practice my deep breathing. My birthday’s coming up next week and I plan to blast those 67 candles right off the top of the deep, dark, devil’s food cake.

Anne Horrigan Geary is a regular Eagle contributor.