Happy birthday from your favorite daughter, a few days late

Happy birthday from your favorite daughter, a few days late

When I was little, I used to think that everyone celebrated your birthday by dressing up in their favorite costumes. I was always a gypsy because I got to wear makeup and large hoop earrings, lots of mom’s jewelry. Michael and I once took Jinx out to Trick or Treat with us, the proverbial sheet over his body so he could be a dog ghost. It wouldn’t stay on, but it didn’t matter. Jinx stayed close to us, his body just touching our legs. He always smiled with that happy panting. He wasn’t a ghost. He was a guardian angel.

I have a memory of being in Santa Fe with a large group of people. We all went to an ice cream parlor, to get something cool. It was a hot summer day. You got two scoops of vanilla. Always vanilla. As we left the shop, you dropped the cone and it plopped to the asphalt, almost instantly going liquid. I wanted you to go back in to get another cone, but you wouldn’t. It just broke my heart seeing that melting ice cream. I don’t know why.

In my six-year-old dreams, you were Tarzan, swinging in and out of family gatherings. We’d be around the fire and you’d make the Tarzan yell and swing in on a jungle rope to join us. It was so exciting when you were there. Lively. Noisy. Funny.

You taught me to do math by teaching me to play cribbage. You taught me so many card games, from poker to “13.” Beating you was always my highest moment of pride. Because it was your highest moment of pride. You won and lost better than anyone I ever knew. It was always an honor to lose to a talented opponent, and only joyful to win if players were well matched. You were a gentleman that way.

I think of you when I put gas in the car. Mom never put gas in her own car. You did that. You kept our cars clean and filled them with gum and candy. The car was an orderly place, free of clutter, always ready to go. I didn’t realize until a few years ago that I get my own need for orderliness from you.

I never told you this, but I wanted to be a preacher because you were a preacher. I wanted to be at the pulpit and have power with words the way you did. I tried so hard to believe in god, to be the Christian you wanted me to be. I suppose we’ve been failing each other for a long time.

But I’m a rhetorician and a writer, and it’s at least in part because of you and your way with words. I can hold my own in an argument, and I’m fearless in the face of authority, and that’s because of you. You helped me find my voice, let me argue with you, encouraged me speak my mind, if not always my heart.

There are so many things to say to you on your 77th birthday, but this isn’t the place or time to say them. Despite all the words you and I say, the real ones are so hard.

Like, “I’m sorry I didn’t call you on your birthday two days ago.” What’s wrong with me? I get that wrong so often. Just when I need my voice, I go silent. I’ve been missing your birthday for decades.

Life is hard and complicated and full of so much regret. So, even though it’s a few days late, “Happy Birthday” from your favorite daughter.

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