One day each year, our birthday, is a special day. How to celebrate is always a question. Some burrow in, insist that they are still 29, and absolutely refuse all efforts to recognize the day. Others celebrate over time, with luncheons, dinner or drinks with different family members and friends. Some plan elaborate parties or special trips. Others take the occasion of a birthday as a personal challenge.
Celebrating “all the September birthdays” or “all the spring birthdays” is popular. My parents, their sibs, and their cousins had a tradition of getting together at a restaurant every couple of months to celebrate birthdays. So long as they were able to drive, they met regularly at a family restaurant which was easy, convenient, and served the type of food they loved. Nobody had to cook, nobody brought presents, but everyone brought funny cards and they competed for the most outrageous. In a pre-Facebook era, these regular lunches allowed them to keep in the loop about what the family was doing. As one of the next generation who came to Vancouver regularly from Toronto, these birthday lunches gave me a chance to visit with family members whom I otherwise might not have seen. I thought it a great institution.
Some people gather together their closest friends and host a special dinner or lunch. To celebrate her 70th birthday, one friend and her neighbour threw a joint birthday party with only their women friends. It was a delightful event, intimate and heart-warming, a gaggle of women “of a certain age” sitting around the dining room table, all resplendent in the sparkling candlelight, laughing over poetry ribbing our friend. To celebrate his 60th birthday, another friend and his partner hosted a sit-down dinner for fifty in their stately living room. After cocktails on the patio, the group enjoyed a concert of song and piano music before the lavish buffet. The spouse of another friend, who met him as a student at Massey College, has hosted birthday dinners for him in the private dining room there. The space has special meaning to them.
For our 65th birthdays, my husband and I hiked the West Coast Trail of Vancouver Island. It was probably a coincidence that we did it that year. We had wanted to hike the 75-kilometre trail from Bamfield to Port Renfrew for years. We knew that it was a back-country trail which required backpacking all our gear. There would be climbing up and down long ladders, crossing rivers on swinging bridges and trolleys, and climbing rocks to traverse some of the beach. My husband was an experienced backpacker but afraid of heights. It dawned on us, however, that if we didn’t do the WCT soon, we probably wouldn’t do it at all. When my cousin, who is an inveterate backwoodsman, wanted to join us, we knew that it was now or never. We took ten days to cover a distance which our son, hiking alone, did in four. How long it took is irrelevant. That we had the experience is what counted. Was it worth the effort? Absolutely.
To celebrate his 60th birthday, our friend Bob Dann ran the New York City Marathon this past November. He had originally set himself the task of running a half marathon in every province and territory in Canada before his 75th. With numerous half marathons under his belt, well in advance of his long-term objective, he decided to try a marathon. And only New York would do. It is the largest marathon in the world, with 50,000 odd runners and, because of the enthusiastic support of New Yorkers all around the city, is considered the most exciting. He began training in the summer and by the fall was ready. He found the race somewhat harder than he had expected. There are long bridges to cross and, contrary to popular belief, running “down” Fifth Avenue and into Central Park at the end of the race is more uphill than down. But he completed the race in five hours, nine minutes and thirty seconds, placing 36,845th of the entire field. A most satisfying birthday celebration!
Which leads me to consider what we should do for our next milestone birthday. It will come all too quickly.