Yesterday was the time of a simple birthday party. The celebrant was Katie, the youngest daughter of my eldest son.
Her actual birthday had been weeks before, but the celebration had been deferred until the holidays were over. She was now 14.
Casually, I told her I remembered my own 14th year, and I did, but I didn't tell her that a shadow crossed my mind when I recalled that year; the year my father died.
On February 5, the night he died, I had returned home late from babysitting. As I entered the house, the phone was ringing, and I ran to answer it before it could wake my family.
How strange, I thought, that someone should be calling after midnight, when everyone but me had long been sleeping. Wrong number?
No; bad news was forthcoming; my father who had been working the late shift had died suddenly as his train was headed home through Geauga County from New Castle, PA.
That marked the harsh beginning of my growing-up, suddenly and painfully, embarking on an unexpected journey of hardship, worry and grief.
On this, my Katie's birthday, I kept that memory to myself... silently wishing my lovely granddaughter a normal, happy life in these teen years of her life. With the loved ones around her still intact.
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COMMENT JAN 5, 2010 from brother Ben:
You have steinbeck's ability to make the written word touch the soul. That would not seem an easy blessing to bear.
I read your Shadows of a Birthday Conversation with a keen understanding that only someone who was also there could feel. Dad's death and the ensuing aftermath certainly made for a long, sorrowful and harsh time in our family's life. It tempered some of us with a steely resolve, even as it melted the spirit of others of us to the very core.
I never really put those times in proper perspective until my time in Vietnam. The "lucky ones" over there would have given anything to trade places with us.
I thank God every day for forcing me to see first-hand what tragedy looks and feels like. In spite of the cranky image I love to openly project to the world, every day I have is a good day.