Happy Birthday to Me
Today is July 17th, 2008...my 45th birthday. I'm not really doing anything special for this particular day, but tomorrow we're hitting the road for a weekend-long adventure in Sedona. I've never been there, but I've heard it's gorgeous. Needless to say...I'm dragging along my cameras to see what I can capture.
This "birthday adventure" is on its second anniversary. Last year, Donnie surprised me with a hot air balloon trip. I guess you could say it's been on my mental bucket list for eons along with other things. If you have never been in a hot air balloon, I highly recommend it. There's just something magical about floating silently in the sky, trying to harness the wind currents to take you where you'd like to go.
As wonderful as that day was, it still doesn't quite measure up to the birthday celebrations I shared with my youngest sister and best friend, Toni. Occasionally I tease and refer to her as my twin sister born eight years later...err...eight years and four days later.
Anyway, I used to celebrate my birthdays in a rather solitary fashion. I'd get up in the predawn hours, load my jeep wrangler with a small cooler, a lounge chair and a good book...and head for a secret little spot on the New Hampshire coastline where I could enjoy the sunrise and complete seclusion. But even that grew stale after a few years and so I had this rather good idea...
"So, Toni...I was thinking. For my birthday you give me a present all the time. And then four days later I turn around and give you a present for your birthday. How about if this year, instead of giving presents...we give each other a day?"
As I knew it would, it immediately appealed to her. I could tell she was as excited as I was when she nearly decked me for ripping off the covers on her bed at 3 a.m. for our first annual sister's birthday celebration. Sure, I had to shove her into the jeep, cover her with a blanket , cram a pillow beneath her head and wrap her reluctant fingers around a coffee mug...but I could tell she was looking forward to this...or would be when she was conscious.
I didn't need her conversation as I drove. I simply threw the top down on the jeep, put on some really happy feel good music and sang my little old heart out as I headed east beneath a star filled sky. I'm still amazed that she managed to sleep through it all.
Within an hour I had pulled up to my favorite spot just north of Wallis Sands. The sky was just beginning to lighten and I just knew it was going to be a beautiful day already. The traffic on the main road was light with the occasional early morning jogger running by...so it was very peaceful. I could see the waves breaking below us on the rocky coastline accompanied by the sound of gulls crying as they searched for breakfast and the white noise of the surf. From the front seat of the jeep, it was like being at a Nature movie at the drive-in. As I sipped my coffee, Toni began to stir beside me.
What I like most about my sister is that she knows when it's a time to be quiet...and when it's a time for words. For the moment, she was content, as I was, to sit and watch the sunrise unfold itself from the edge of the world. If you pay attention, there is always that one precious moment when the day seems sparkling new and the possibilities that lay at your feet are endless. She must have felt it too, because all I heard was a whispered, "Oh wow..." from my right.
Finally, I turned to her with a grin..."Ready for breakfast?"
We drove further up the coast til we had very nearly reached Portsmouth. Tucked off the road there is a wonderful little diner that is frequented by fishermen and the locals. Everything is cooked fresh in the morning and all of the ingredients are the real deal. Walking in the door, you are assaulted by so many tantalizing aromas you can almost imagine you've walked into a kitchen where about fifty grandmothers have been working that special baking magic known only to grandmothers.
Needless to say...we stuffed ourselves.
Since I was in charge of the first half of the day, I decided to continue our journey further north and spend the day at York Beach in Maine. Because we were arriving so early, we got front row parking with the jeep and only had to haul our lounge chairs, cooler and assorted paraphernalia a short distance. We get settled and pretend to read the books we have brought for about five minutes...
Toni and I are alike in that we cannot sit still long enough to be considered sunbathers. We put the books down and go for a walk along the beach. Upon returning, we people watch...inventing names and stories about the people as they slowly being to arrive. When we are hungry, we break open the cooler and nibble on our favorite beach food....celery with peanut butter, chunks of fresh cold watermelon, crisp green grapes and strawberries dipped in sour cream and brown sugar. Despite the sour cream, brown sugar and peanut butter...we are proud of the fact that we have made a conscientious effort to eat healthy. Hey...it's fruit!
But once we are truly relaxed...we just talk. There should always be at least one person in the world that you can talk to in this fashion...somebody that will hear everything, even the truth, and never judge. This is the friendship I have with my sister.
At one point during our conversation, a rogue cloud drifted into our blue skies and let loose a summer cloudburst upon the beach. Toni and I laughed as we watched everyone grab their things and race for their cars. I tucked one end of my beach towel beneath my toes, stretched it over my bent knees and then tucked the other end beneath my head. Toni giggled and did likewise. With our chairs just inches apart we were able to continue our conversation, beneath our towel tents...
There are some moments in our lives when our memory takes a vivid snapshot. This was definitely one of those moments. It is so well preserved that when I think of good times spent with my sister, that shot is the album's cover.
We never did get wet...
As the day wore on, Toni took over and had decided that we should have dinner at one of her favorite restaurants at the other end of the New Hampshire coastline, just shy of Salisbury, MA. Luckily, New Hampshire's coastline is very small. I didn't mind...I'd drive across country with her in a heartbeat if she asked.
About a mile or two into this road trip, however, she began to fidget. I waited...she would tell me when she was ready.
"Umm..." she started, "this restaurant...it may not be what you like. It's more of a...well it's a seafood place."
"I like seafood."
Another mile rolls by...
"Well...it's not really a seafood RESTAURANT...it's more like a take-out place."
"That's okay...if the food is good, then I don't really care. Besides..."
At this I paused and pointedly looked at her from head to toe.
"...I don't really think we're dressed properly for a restaurant...do you?"
Toni looked in the mirror and made a face, her nose already bright pink from sun...her hair stiff with sea salt. I was sure I looked worse.
Another two miles of quiet and then...
"Well I go there for the fish."
"Well duh...didn't you just say it was a seafood place?"
"No...I mean real fish...alive...blue fish actually. Oh! You'll love it too! Just wait..."
And so I did. We ordered way too much food...our eyes being bigger than our stomachs...and Toni led the way out onto the deck that hung out into the water. We set our trays down and then she leaned over the railing and pointed into the water....
Just beneath the surface were schools of blue fish. Toni picked up one of her french fries, snapped it in half and tossed it into the water. Immediately the surface began to churn with tails and fins until the french fry disappeared. How cool! For the next few minutes, as our food grew cold, we tossed choice morsels of seafood to the fish. As I flung yet another edible item over the railing, to our surprise a seagull swooped down and nabbed it in midair.
I looked at Toni...and she looked at me.
"Screw the fish," she cried, "birds are more fun!"
Luckily for us, our significant others were nowhere around because we would have received a great lecture about how "dump ducks" or "sky rats" as they fondly called seagulls were not worthy of eating our food. But for Toni and I, all it takes is a patch of fur, a clump of feathers, a scaly hide...and it's animal love time.
French fries and onion rings were the first things to go. Usually we would toss them in the air and watch an aerial acrobatic show as a seagull claimed his prize. Occasionally we managed to lure a seagull in closer to take the morsel from our fingertips during a flyby. Either way, we were drawing a crowd of seagulls and trying to be fair kept getting more difficult. They just looked too damned much alike.
And then as I watched, a splatter of red appeared on the snowy breast of one of the seagulls and I heard an "oops..." beside me.
"I didn't realize that onion ring had ketchup on it..."
We dubbed this particular seagull, Booboo. He didn't seem to mind....
Even the best of days begin to wind down, however and all too soon we were heading back home. A combination of contentment and tiredness kept us comfortably quiet for most of the journey. There did come a point though when my thoughts had been turned inward and I was thinking of just how much this gift of a day had meant to me.
I cleared my throat around the sudden constriction and spoke...
"There is something you need to know. I've wanted to tell you for some time now...but it just didn't feel right. But now it does...and so I'm going to say something that might seem a bit heavy...but here it goes."
"I would die for you."
I took my eyes off the road for a second to look sideways...trying to gauge the impact of what I had said. I saw her lip tremble, her eyes fill with tears...
"Yes...I love you that much," I said softly.
It was just important for me that she understood that. That no matter what happened in the future, I would always feel this way.
Not too long ago, unaware of this birthday tale, Donnie turned to me and uttered the very same words. "I would die for you."
Knowing just what that meant, I burst into tears...
This weekend, while Donnie and I are in Sedona, I will take my sister with me in spirit. So, Happy Birthday, Toni...and take it easy on the seagulls, okay?