Today is my birthday. Which one is irrelevant, as I have stopped counting. Believe me, I know which one this is, but I don't feel like dwelling on it. I have always felt younger than I am, perhaps because my parents are still, with all their aches and pains, quite youthful. I have a childhood friend who is lucky, like me, in that her parents are still around. She whines about how they continue to infantilize her; "What do you MEAN you went out and bought a TV without talking to us? Uncle Bernie could have gotten you a better deal!" Lately, my parents have gotten much better at acknowledging me as an adult, although in my own head I still feel their gimlet eye. And while this neurosis almost certainly colors how I feel about my life and my own self worth, it does serve as a kind of psychological Botox.
As a part of my parents' deaccession plan, my father had all of his slides put onto a disc. I think somehow Costco was involved; as it has indeed infiltrated even the most personal moments of so many of our lives. I mean, what item does Costco sell the most? I ask the checkout people every time and their answer is always the same: toilet paper.
Anyway, I am now the proud keeper of the family album, a responsibility that I take rather seriously. From time to time, I look at the pictures in the same manner as when I used to hole up in our darkened basement rec room and look at tray after tray of those slides, comforted by the noise of the Carousel projector... that constant whooshing and the rhythmic click-clacking of the slides moving up and down. I revisit family occasions, trips, the grand and simple moments. I see my parents at their college graduations and my Uncle Billy's, one that I even remember, and their early suburban gatherings. I pine away over the furniture, the Thai silk throw pillows, a certain sweater or pajamas. It all looks dreamy and sweet and not nearly as fraught with anxiety as I recall... I wasn't an easy kid.
One of my favorite pictures is from my second birthday party in our backyard. My mom is helping me cut the cake- not that I have ever needed any assistance in getting to a cake. My mom's dad, Poppy Jack, stands behind me cleaning his glasses. My dad's father, Zaydie Hymie, with his big band-era wide ties and high-waisted pleated pants, is standing just outside of the frame. I remember that Charlie Brown neighborhood well, one where all the houses looked the same.
More than anything, I see myself in my Poppy. He's actually a year or 2 younger in this shot than I am today. He was much loved- a real "mensch" of a man- and if I can be half of what he was, that will be just fine. Like him, I'm constantly cleaning my glasses, although no one could ever load up a shirt pocket like he could.
Tonight, my other half Rich and I are driving down to Fort Lauderdale to have dinner at the Mai Kai. It's a big, campy Polynesian place that's been around since the 50s, like me. I haven't been there since my college years. Tomorrow night, we'll meet my parents for dinner at their favorite new Thai place. And so it goes... birthdays, cake, dinners... more pictures, more memories, more click-clacking of the Carousel. Life is good.