Okay...let me tell you about 60. As an age, it's pretty good overall. While your 50's are like the teenage years of middle age, (all body change & confusion) at 60 you've pretty much accepted the body changes & have decided to run with it. And 6 is even, where 5 is odd, & even numbers are just...I don't know...cooler or something. Like, 70 seems decrepit, whereas 80 is kind of kick-ass. Like, Look, I'm 80, I can easily make it to 90! Whereas at 90, you're headed towards 100...maybe.
At 60 you can still roll down the windows of the pickup & blast Free Bird as you drive (cautiously-because-your-vision-sucks) down the highway. You can dance wildly (wear low heels) at weddings! You can re-read your favorite novels -- the ones you read in your twenties -- & they have entirely new meaning. Same with movies! Now the ingenue seems stupid & shallow, while her mother is suddenly fascinating & sympathetic.
And gardening -- (You love gardening!) -- gardening is practically synonymous with cheery-aging! There are entire books of essays & poems written by elderly poets, proclaiming gardening to be better than sex or ice cream or sunsets! Gardens filled with tomatoes! peppers! onions! (Sorry...I've been craving salsa lately...)
I have no idea how to celebrate your birthday. A party would be nice, but practically everyone you love lives somewhere else, & a party would just drive that all home & then you'd just be depressed.
So I am going all random here: Some memories, some pictures. It is weird sifting thru old photos because there is this constant recognition of The Past, & all these people we loved & so many of them gone. Hey, it's Grandma! But now we're Grandma, so that's kind of disconcerting. Hmmm...
Okay...we'll start with Great-Grandma. You were born on her birthday which I had to hear about endlessly. (I was born on Barbra Streisand's birthday, but nobody ever talked about that, it was all Grandma, Grandma, Grandma).
Great-Grandma never blasted Free Bird from a pickup truck, seeing as how she didn't drive. Lots of shitty-awful things happened to her in her 96 years, but she persevered & fed us (& our dog) every Sunday, & smiled adoringly as we sang Jesus Loves Me standing next to the clinking piano at the Missionary Baptist Church. She had an enormous garden, loved Art Linkletter & Lawrence Welk, & loved our mother like the daughter she'd lost.
In the above picture I am looking slightly resentful, maybe about that whole Great-Grandma's birthday deal. Or possibly because you are dressed to the nines, with a bonnet even, while I'm wearing plaid, for Christ's sake, & am bonnet-less.
Of course, the reason you're dressed up is because you are going to live with Uncle Louis & Aunt Janice for a few months, while I'm going to live with Grandma & Grandpa. Mom had to have back surgery & she can't lift us & needs lots of rest so we're being farmed out. Louis & Janice are what passes in our family for "rich." A few years after this picture is taken, Louis goes out to a shed & puts a shotgun to his head & pulls the trigger.
Financial woes, not your fault.
Okay...this is you in Paradise.
Really! We used to drive up to the town of Paradise & pick our own fruit. Here are wooden crates of peaches, & you are adorably covered in fruit. (That bucket was probably full moments earlier!)
I don't see how that could possibly be our car, because no way would Dad have a bumper sticker that says Slow Down, as he liked to fly down the road at a smooth 85, passing cars on two-lane roads, singing full-voiced, windows open, Pall Mall in one hand, other hand on the steering wheel.
Maybe that whole singing thing came thru to you genetically (& completely skipped me). Singing & cigarettes. I was cautious & worried, you were adventurous & fearless & open to everything -- Marlboros, drugs, running away from home. We got labeled early on: I was the "little mommy" & you were the "tomboy." We played our roles well. I carried babies on my hip & read stories; you snuck off to play with the neighbor kids, even when you knew a switch awaited your return home. I changed diapers & heated baby bottles. You broke your arm, sliced your foot open, got stitches, & buried dead animals.
Even when we played, I was the girl, you were the boy. Here is photographic proof!
We are dressed for the Kiddie Parade. I'm the girl with the baby (& Great-Grandma's classic shoes) & you're the "boy" with the jug of moonshine & the rifle. I have no memory of where the wig or the beard came from, or the glasses.
Still, the year of your Old Prospector is preferable to the year Mom dressed you in pillows, a do-rag & blackface as Aunt Jemima-of-pancake-mix-fame. Even now I rub my forehead in disbelief, thinking about that one. (Although really, Mom was like "Aunt Jemima is famous!")
And here we are with our pets.
Okay...so how come I can't remember the names of people I slept with, but I can clearly recall all the names of our chickens. Alice, Pecky, Rooster, Chili. (Hmmm...maybe it's because there are only FOUR chickens...)
ANYWAY...your chin is healing here because you apparently (according to the back of the photo) busted it on a sharp corner charging thru the house. This was typical. I remember you breaking your arm at least twice. I hope (now that you are elderly) the cold weather does not make your old injuries ache. ("Yep, that's from when I broke my arm back in '58. Hurts somethin' awful ever' time a nor'easter comes around.")
(Note: Poetic license taken, as I don't believe we get "nor'easters" in California.)
I don't have anything for this one, except you look really cute holding the dog. I'm pretty sure this is Darlin' -- Darlin' was darlin' but also a chronic car chaser who would wander down to the highway below the olive orchard & chase cars. One time she got hit & Mom nearly left her there, thinking she was dead, but then went over to check & she wasn't so she brought her home & she healed up & pretty soon went back to chasing cars. Eventually, I believe she took on a lumber truck & lost. You probably buried her.
Well, these fish are dead, too. Here we are with Dad on one of our fishing trips. Possibly our ONLY fishing trip, as I was creeped out by worms & desperately-gasping-dying-fish & you (all shiny blonde there in front) don't look all that thrilled, either. Dad is all cigarette-John-Wayne-squint here. In fact, this photo is quintessential Dad. He will leave in a few years & marry someone else & have a son who likes to fish & hunt, as opposed to his other sons who grow up to be musicians & brilliant & amazing.
No, I'm not bitter...
And here we move forward in time to when you got way taller than me. I don't understand how this happened...
Here we all are standing in front of some apparently-significant rock. There's a plaque & everything! All five of us -- our always-photogenic younger sister, the brilliant brothers, me inexplicably wearing short shorts, & you, looking practically a foot taller than me in your pegged jeans. (We were so good at pegging our jeans! Now I can barely hem!) I have a poodle-cut (which is kind of like a '60's mullet) which I got when Grandma took me to her old-lady-beauty-parlor before my 8th grade graduation, & which finally grew out at the end of my sophomore year of high school, which means you were maybe in 8th grade here!
Sometimes I go thru all of these photos & it's like being in a time machine. I try to remember names of vaguely familiar faces, or why we're all wearing aluminum foil or standing beneath a waterfall or petting a goat. I try to connect the dots, the old letters, the scrawls on the backs of photos. Relatives I don't remember, family stories passed down thru the years, maybe true, maybe not.
But thru all of them, you are there with me. We are hanging together, dressed in skirts with scratchy petticoats. Cotton swimsuits. Beat-up army shirts & torn jeans. Sometimes I'm holding your kids, sometimes you're holding my kids. Our husbands pose with beers & babies. The kids graduate, the dogs get old. New houses become weathered. Blue Volvo. Green Fairlane. Black & white. Fuzzy Instamatic shots. Smiling grandchildren.
We stand by gravestones. We photograph flowers. We pick up our lives. Cats appear.Life goes on. We are allies, always, thru pictures, thru life.
Happy Birthday, oh-so-beautiful, sister! I love you!