I took last week off of work. I was not expecting to take the whole week. I had planned on just Monday and Tuesday…but I got a cold on the night of my birthday while in Cape Cod. I enjoyed every bit of time off despite the cold. I got to do all the things I wanted to do, just without the ability to speak for almost three days. There was time to reflect, read three books, relax, spend time with friends and family, go to the movies, complete crossword puzzles, and write journal entries.
Also, I reflected back again to that old house in Pembroke, where I grew into my teenage years. I remembered many birthdays from my youth that were filled with such great times, people, activities, and food. Birthdays during the summer seemed nearly as sacred as Christmas because so many people would join us in our backyard and screened porch. Mom loved having people over, entertaining, preparing all the food. Dad enjoyed getting his property ready with fresh coats of paint and stain on the picnic table near the large, shady tree, cutting the grass, and landscaping.
The best birthday party that I can remember is my fifth birthday. Our memories are not always reliable, we tend to romanticize certain events because they burn more brightly than other times in our history. Family and friends were all over the place during the day. I was very much into the musical Annie and Hollywood had just create a movie version of it starring Bernadette Peters, Tim Curry, Carol Burnett among others. I clearly remember settling in for the night in our family living room and watching the movie with other kids while the adults sat on the screened porch. The scene I remember most clearly is where Annie arrives at Daddy Warbucks mansion meets the staff and all the various services they perform around the sprawling home. Part of the scene has characters doing a sort of half cartwheel, planting their hands on the table and kicking their legs up a bit. All of us in the room decided to mimic this move, using the family couches as a place to plant our hands while our legs kicked up a bit . First the sofa, then the love seat and back again. A few kids were sitting on the floor, others taking our turn cartwheeling on the sofas, dancing, and watching ourselves in the floor-to-ceiling windows blackened by the night. Our parents were on that screened porch, bathed in the yellow incandescent light which hung over the table. The river breeze enhanced by the nearby oscillating wall fan. We could hear them laughing and talking from the living room. Knowing they were having a good time comforted me, defining and confirming what security meant. It made me feel as though all was right with the world. I still love hearing my parents talk downstairs while I am upstairs in bed. It is the world quietly letting me know that everything will be okay.
We still have a photograph from a party in the backyard where I invited family, friends, and kids from my kindergarten class. It may be the daytime events of the evening described above. The photo features me at the head of the picnic table, kids and family along the sides of the table, a cake in front of me with Donald Duck on it, and cans of Tab(TM), paper plates and tablecloth. Fran, a family friend and colleague of my mother, is at my side. She always provided great balloons and, was and still is the life of the party. The fading photo is a beautiful moment captured in time. It is times like these that I am so thankful for photographs. In addition for this party, my father dressed up as Donald Duck complete with vocal impression. What a great time!
These parties occurred during a time while I was somewhat innocent. Yes, I did have an understanding of the uncomfortable, the scary, and the unpredictable. There was a balance. Today, the feeling of balance comes and goes; I do not feel so innocent any more. Is there a way to get back to that feeling of security, creativity and love of life? I was able to let go and not latch onto anxiety back then, especially during these times. They are a shining example of how good one can feel if you trust in the world to take care of you, trust that your parents will be there for you, trust that you will be okay. There was less responsibility as a child, it was different. Just because it was different does not mean that that sense of peace and trust in another person is not possible as an adult. There is more responsibility because to whom much has been given, even more is expected. Understood. More and more, I hear throughout my days, last week and the week before, that I must let go and free myself from burdens that I cannot bear. I must trust my voice first, then react to my surroundings with the knowledge that there is someone, something out there looking out for me. My dogged determination does not want me to believe that there is something larger an arm’s length away that can help me out along the way. Pushing myself like I do works for some, but does not work for me. I need to recapture my innocence through faith in something that I cannot acquire through my own activity. I do not know what that looks like at this point in my life, yet I accept the concept as valid because I have felt the presence of peace in my life during turbulent times in college. It is possible. At bear minimum, I must allow for the possibility that the thoughts that drive innocent and skeptical thinking can co-exist in one mind. The innocent and free voice must be there to challenge the skeptic within, to fight for what is right and what has always been there: me, my own true voice. Yes..yes!!! I can see her, sitting in front of that Donald Duck cake and completing, incomplete cartwheels in the old living room, while my parents, their friends and something greater than myself sits on the screened porch bathed in the most beautiful van Gogh-inspired yellow.