Since I plan to use my New Year’s column for a list of the people and things that have annoyed me the most this past year, I figured I’d better do something nice for my Christmas column or risk being driven out of town by all the little elves that are making me crazy with their Christmas cheer. And so, here it is – my reason to be grateful this year.
I am grateful, finally after more than fifty decades, that my friend Grace had her birthday before me.
I guess we need to go back a bit to explain this. I first met Grace when we were both about 3 1/2 years old. Actually, she was 3 1/2. I was only 3 1/4. And that bugged the heck out of me the whole time we were growing up together.
She got to do everything first. She became a teen first. She got her ears pierced first. She was eligible to get a driver’s license first. She even became a woman first…in, I should clarify, the old fashioned sense of becoming a woman. She hit sweet sixteen before me. And she got to drink legally first.
I spent a good deal of my youth thinking it was just so darned unfair that she got to everything before me. I couldn’t wait to grow up so that things would be even between us. Ah the foolishness of youth.
Now, as I approach a milestone birthday, I find myself quite happy to have her go first. In fact, as we have approached a variety of milestone birthdays over the years, I have grown more and more content to be the second to reach them. I would, at this point, be not at all unhappy if I was a year or two or five behind her instead of three months.
But that’s not likely to happen so I guess I need to learn to be grateful for the three month gap which gives me some time to catch my breath as I realize just how old she is. And just how old I’ll soon be.
I’ve never particularly had trouble in the past with birthdays, even those considered the milestones of our lives. If you were never the pretty young thing, and I wasn’t, you don’t have as much to lose when you are no longer young. In fact, you have a lot to gain. I’ve always been better at being older than I ever was at being young. My life began in earnest when I hit forty and felt that I’d finally grown into my head.
The problem, as I see it, is that I liked forty and found fifty not bad either. But beyond that there seemed to be this yawning chasm of varicose veins, veggie induced gas and aches and pains that caused strange sounds to come out of my body when getting in and out of my car. Whether this vision is true to reality or not, it seems to be the one stuck in my head that keeps replaying as I think about hitting new milestones.
And so I watch my friend head into this new decade and look to see if there are any visible changes that should cause me to worry. Her knee aches. She’s got some new medical problems. But her life hasn’t slowed down. She teaches full time, is getting ready for her second daughter’s wedding and is never at home because she just has too many places to go and too many thing she has yet to accomplish.
This gives me hope that I will not fall completely apart on my next birthday. And for that I am grateful. Finally, I’m not jealous that she’s reaching milestones before me. I’m happy to be trailing her lead.
Oh, and did I mention that I’m also very grateful this Christmas that I still have my friend from so long ago in my life? That is truly one of the best gifts I have ever received. Her continued friendship has been a kind of anchor for me. If I ever became too full of myself, all I had to do was call Grace. She would remind me of the days spent on the Steel Pier in Atlantic City screaming for Ricky Nelson. Or the afternoon spent in my mother’s kitchen trying to pierce my ears with a sewing needle, ice cubes and a potato. Or the times spent in her mother’s parlor – the formal one with the plastic on all the furniture – trying to teach ourselves to dance to 45s like they did on Bandstand.
We were nerds together when we were young. We’ve remained nerds most of our lives. And as we gallop into old age, I imagine both the friendship and the nerdiness will remain intact. For this, I am immensely grateful.