By Lois Vidaver
I had the best birthday celebration earlier this year. Because it was a “big zero” one, our event planner daughter pulled off a surprise that completely delighted me. Our immediate family headed toward a private room in a restaurant but when we walked in, I found several friends had joined the party.
After dinner, one of them brought forth a tray with eight votive candles on it. Each candle, she instructed me, represented a decade of my life and I was to share one remembrance from each.
What to tell? I reminded all those gathered that, in my advanced age, not only was my hearing going and my eyesight failing but my memory was slipping, too. I felt determined to pull myself together, however, and try not to make a complete fool of myself.
My granddaughter did the honors, lighting the first candle as I rapidly (as one could at my age) searched for an appropriate memory. “What happened to you between the age of 0 and 10?” someone gently prodded.
Well, let’s see. My first memory of life was my father locking my mother out of the house at a late hour when I was about 5. As she pounded on the front door, I crept downstairs, pulled a chair over to the door, climbed up and unlocked the lock to let her back in. He wouldn’t, but I did.
No, I thought to myself, I couldn’t rightly tell that one. I realized at that moment my memories had to go through a split-second selective process. Hmm, that would be a challenge.
I settled on an exciting time when I was 8. My father, uncle and I accompanied my brother to Penn Station where he would catch a train, arrive at Camp Lejeune on his 18th birthday and begin his new life as a Marine. A World War II hero, he earned a Bronze Star at Iwo Jima. Pride welled up in me as I shared this story.
The memory of 10 to 20, someone prodded again, as another candle was lit. It was the time I almost did not graduate from my New York City high school. Every senior had to jump into the pool and swim its length before he or she received a diploma.
I remember (long after the deadline had passed) rounding up friends to give me support. Finally the minute arrived. The swim teacher stood on the side of the deep end egging me on: “You can do this, Lois.”
My friends cheered as I and my terror jumped in. Desperately flailing my arms and legs like a turbo engine, I made it to the first set of steps leading to the deck. I never did swim the length, but we all celebrated as if I had.
And so it went. As each candle was lit, I shared another memory.
For my seventh decade, I talked about the shock of losing a job I loved when the facility closed unexpectedly. I had pictured myself retiring in that job and leaving with a celebratory lunch amid my colleagues. It was not to be.
What to do? Within a short time, I filled the hours of my days with an opportunity that made me feel I had won the lottery: I taught reading at a local learning center for special-needs children.
I smiled when I related the joy I felt when I left my young charges at the end of the day with the reminder from one of them: “Time for a hug, Miss Lois.”
If I could have done it again, I would have shared with my family and friends at that wonderful gathering these words of wisdom, sometimes attributed to Dr. Seuss: “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”