I look out the window this morning. It's Friday and the sun shining over the pond acts as the perfect master of ceremonies for the incredible show of nature that is just outside our window. I often refer to our apartment as our "tree house" because we're up so high, almost to the top of some of the trees. It's a beautiful morning, very autumnal and very full of hope and promise.
Today is my father's 91st birthday. His first one alone in over 70 years. His first one without my mother there, greeting him with a "Happy Birthday". Last year, she made sure that he had a party, a family celebration of the birthday neither one of them had envisioned all those years ago when they met at Christopher Columbus High School in the Bronx. He was 18, she 16 and according to both of them, it truly was love at first sight.
My father did not have a happy childhood. There's lots of unspoken evidence which allows his children and grandchildren to know that. There's also written evidence from ancient census reports that document the fact that his mother and father divorced when he was very young, leaving he and his older half-sister to live with their mother, an immigrant who apparently was too frightened to give "Germany" as the place of her birth and told the census taker one year that she was "Swiss". Or, was she really Swiss? Who knows? There's very little talk about her or for that matter, about anything before my father met my mother and was rescued from the life he was living at the home of the father who did not want him in his life. A father who made it very clear that the child who came to live with him purely by default after his mother's death, the fourteen year old burden who was chastised for drinking too much milk and handed a bill the night before his own wedding.
Any happiness that my father knew, started late in his life. It all began when he entered the home of my maternal grandparents for the first time, a tall, skinny, good looking German guy who was painfully shy but obviously totally in love with my beautiful teen-aged mother. My grandmother also fell in love and from that moment on, she had a son and was determined to love and feed him for the rest of her life. Had she actually given birth to him, she could not have cared and nurtured him more. He was the start of so many happy memories and so much pride but there were so many mysteries that would remain unsolved, so much pain and regret that would manifest themselves in ways only my own mother would grow to understand and accept.
So, today marks another year in my father's life. Most assuredly, this was not his happiest year. The last day of happiness was the day of his surprise birthday party, the last chance my mother had to wish him happiness, pure and unadulterated A wish for another year of health, the health he would need as he cared for her as hers rapidly deteriorated. A wish for another year of prosperity, for the care of a loved one always requires extra funds. A wish for another year of strength, for there would be times ahead which required physical and mental maneuvers suited better for men half his age. A wish for another year of patience, spent sitting in health care facility waiting rooms, waiting for the bad news ahead. A wish for another year of devotion and love, good morning kisses and good nights......A wish for a few more years, that she knew would never come true.
My father was so delighted with his birthday surprise and with his family surrounding him as he blew out the candles that he cried like a baby. It was wonderful to watch him enjoying this moment in time and all the joy it brought my mother. It will for me, be the nicest of all the memories I have of my parents, the last of the times I saw them happy. So, I'm baking the cupcakes, wrapping the gift, signing the card, and getting ready to honor the man who made my mother happy. It's my turn now to make sure he is happy and cared for just as my grandmother and my own mother did before me.