When I turned fifty, I had a birthday bash. I asked folks to sing their favorite song, write a new one, or read me a much loved poem. Those were the gifts I wanted. I asked them to pretend I had died, and to get up and speak about my life, the way they would talk at my funeral. I wanted to hear what folks were going to say. Otherwise, how would I know? I draped photos from different chapters of my life around my sister Susan’s palatial house, giving folks something to laugh about and a way to focus conversation. There was a fire in the fireplace, friends played fiddle, mandolin and guitar. We ate well. A small bubbly Jewish friend named Sharon was one of the last to leave. I remember her making her way out the front door, her arms heavy with dishes. “I bet you never thought you’d look this good at 50, did you?” I was stunned. Was I supposed to look bad?
When I lived in The Columbia River Gorge with my friend Tom, we had summer parties on acres of land. Folks hung clothes they no longer wanted on the line to be exchanged for the offerings of others. I hired a caller. We contra danced in long lines, laughing as we swirled and kicked our skirts up. We ate well and smiled openly. We sat on hay bales around an evening fire and munched handfuls of raspberries from the fifty acres that grew in the back field.
B’lou, (short for Betty Lou, a name she hated) and I used to give all kinds of crazy parties. Our last one was, The God Party. We all came in character, dressed as our overseeing angel and talked about ourselves like we weren’t there. I was Mother Superior and had a delightful evening reprimanding those less perfect with a ruler. B’lou had a costume closet where a pantry used to be, and had turned the dining room into a dance floor with large mirrors and millions of theatrical hats. You were never expected to be yourself when you entered. Do you know how refreshing that can be?
When I turned 55, I asked friends to parade down Salmon Street in their pajamas. Ten women showed up, plus my daughter, granddaughter and a few neighbors. We put ivy in our hair and walked a short mile playing instruments, but it lacked something – a brass section, I think.
I’ll be 65 on the last day of November; an age I can’t believe belongs to me. I guess there will be no party, because I have no ideas or motivation. I’ve planned a trip to California to visit my granddaughter, Britan, who will be sweet 16, and my son, Clay, who is pushing 40. We share the same birthday season. Then I’ll return, and have a quiet week-end at the coast with my buddy, Susan.
I’ve become solitary and hermit-like in my old age, living in the forest and doing little but working as a healer, teaching, writing and more and more healing work. I’ve also begun doing really dumb things, like searching for the phone while I’m talking on it. And putting on my sunglasses at night, instead of driving glasses, then freaking out believing there is something horribly wrong with my lights. I don’t feel as brave, as tough or as social as I used to. I miss that. But the worst part, is that people I don’t know keep sending me letters about cremation, hearing aids and hospital services. My mother was hang gliding and riding camels until she was 90. Why don’t they send letters encouraging us to do that?