As the guests arrived, I hugged them one by one, taking them in, accepting their birthday wishes: friends. I desired to squeeze them a little longer, invite them for coffee, and listen to the lines on their faces. These mothers of 50 or more children lived so many lives in the past months, lost mothers, illnesses, personal tragedies that we know as ‘run of the mill,’ - that is, until we see the chafes and scars left behind by those millstones. But, tonight was specifically not about millstones. I waved my magic wineglass, hoping to change each of those millstones worn into the beautiful silk scarves that should adorn their necks, cradling their loving cheeks - only for a few hours, I know, but for my birthday maybe I could give them each a few extra hours of love.
We were about ready to play dominoes. I filled my glass of wine.
The preschool parking lot and PTA meetings transformed into a wine commercial. Curly hair had been straightened, straight hair round-brushed to perfection, make-up applied – a little more than usual - favorite jeans, and the top that accented this and minimized that in just the right way. Everyone smiled and laughed, the hand gestures threatening to topple a precarious glass of wine, a fruity vodka drink with a curly straw (?) (more laughter), a symbolic mockery of our daily lives twisted into celebration.
Above the background of laughter, exclamations demanded attention.
“Oooo. Those are really big!”
“Wow. Where did you find those!?”
I looked across the island of gorgeous service pieces filled with delightful nibbles that multiplied with the arrival of guests. I saw Alaskan King crab legs.
I stood still for a moment, the laughter becoming white noise in the background of my thoughts. I felt the softness of a gold velveteen jumper my mother had made for me, my hair in braids, we sat in a restaurant my parents could probably ill-afford at the time (I didn’t know that), eating Alaskan King crab legs for my birthday, my favorite food. I sat straight, a princess eating like a king, my kingdom perfectly orchestrated by loving hands, gifts given in one century, but not fully received until the next. I heard my own voice.
“It was Facebook.”
Indy stood next to me. “What a great idea! I read that too. You always liked crab for your birthday.”
“I don’t remember what I wrote. It was just 25 random things about me.”
I feasted on her thoughtfulness, dipped in drawn butter.
We were about ready to play dominoes. Someone filled my glass of wine.
No longer early, we moved the party to the hearth room to admire the carefully wrapped gifts gathered beside the roaring flames.
“Oh, age before beauty!” I laughed. “Youngest goes first, the advantage goes to ‘maturity’ at this party.” (Having come up short in this exchange game before – my gift was a little too expensive and poorly wrapped as a surprise to the unfortunate. Somehow our youngest guest managed to walk away with it!)
As the very last to pick (not the oldest, just the birthday girl), I stood before the fire with the daunting task of choosing a gift to “steal” from a friend. I walked around the room, fawning over them, realizing that each one was more perfect than the one before.
The woman who had disappeared for a phone call (and emerged with a six-pack and the idea to send our kids into Lake Erie without bathing suits) held a bottle of Bailey’s. I moved on.
Rightfully so, the “naughty gift” exchanged hands the most. (My side still aches thinking about it). The woman who would soon leave on her maiden voyage to Vegas with her husband emerged victorious – and who would argue?
Victoria, who made her own Christmas cards at a girlfriends’ weekend and, seeming to appear whenever someone needs help (but has never been a recipient from me), received beautiful cards and a bookmark with a quote from Maya Angelou – perfect.
The hostess to our crane party, brought an origami kit. The room erupted with laughter and fond memories. “Every exchange needs something goofy,” she offered excuses, but it exchanged hands multiple times before settling with our friend who received the cranes – so perfect!
In awe, I absconded with a drive-thru gift card – the perfect gift for a woman on the move.
We talked about playing dominoes, but the thought became lost amid the laughter again.
My wine refilled, I noticed Mrs. Debutante swaying joyfully to the music she had just selected. She beckoned me over.
“This is THE song. Remember? I typed in the words to you right after Operation Santa.”
“Yes, I remember,” I said, hearing it differently now as a song instead of a poem.
“This is your song.”
Although the compliment was far more than my shoulders could bear, I accepted it. I wrapped it around like a beautiful silk scarf and swayed along with her.
We never played dominoes. We forgot to care about anything besides each other.
When the second to last guest departed, Mrs. Debutante sat gracefully upon her countertop. I popped up next to her on that granite throne, a princess in Harley boots, her kingdom made perfect by loving hands.