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it’s my party and I’ll babble if I want to

I’ve been feeling guilty all afternoon – there I was, actually trying to put some order in the unbelievable jumble of my life and house, when I know all of you out there – well, Brucie, anyway – are waiting to hear how the festivities went. It’s 8.30 p.m. on my third day as a sixty-year old, and I’m on the deck in the sticky Toronto air, cicadas and air conditioners blasting all around, glass of rosé in hand, the house behind me empty for the first time in days. Let’s chronicle.

It was the best. The absolute and utter best. Even the weather. A friend said, Someone up there must like you because the day is perfect. And it was – mild and sunny with a breeze. By the time the guests started to arrive at 4, I thought my legs would fall off, after two solid days (and the weeks before) of shopping, organizing, cooking, gardening and cleaning, and then the last-minute rush – Anna making hors d’oeuvres, the house guests making up the skewers and Sam barbequing, and Anna’s friend Jay setting up his official DJ booth with speakers the size of Cadillacs – quite a surprise, those speakers that could have broadcast our music to Winnipeg. Auntie Do and Mum deadheading in the garden, Denis doing a bit of everything, people rushing out for more ice, more this and that. It takes a village to make a birthday party – at least, one this size.
At 3, Lynn’s daughter Sarah, who is of course French, said to me, Beth, isn’t it time for you to go get ready? It hadn’t occurred to me that I’d need some time to prepare myself – but yes, when one is sixty, primping does take time. I showered and dressed and got ready for my close-up, so felt quite regal when the guests began to arrive. I’d prepared name tags – Hello/Bonjour, with the name and a funny tidbit about each person to stimulate discussion, in case anyone was wandering in the backyard with no one to talk to .. but it all seemed to leap into life on its own, clumps of animated people, drinks flowing, people arriving, kissing me, greeting each other, eating the hors d’oeuvres that miraculously appeared. Gentle music from the Cadillacs.
The cool people – aka the smokers of both licit and illicit substances and everyone under 30 – and Auntie Do – made their way to the back and stayed there for the entire event, entertaining each other in clouds of smoke. My friend Mary went back too, and told me that at one point, she and Do were the only women in a crowd of young men, four of them named Matt. “Just us and all those Matts,” she said. In the 60 years I have known my mother’s 90-year old sister, I have never seen her beam as she did on Sunday. My mother too, chatting to everyone, animated and beautiful – what joy to see them there. What sheer heavenly bliss, so many beloved friends and family members gathered in my garden, talking to each other, the strangest combinations of people meeting for the first time with lots to say, and so much laughing. And a breeze.
I glided about in a haze of goodwill, managing to focus periodically. We got the food out, dishes, cutlery, the wine still flowing, much much beer vanishing to the end of the garden. Truly – I would not do the cooking for an event of this size again. What we didn’t realize was that caterers have special equipment – large pots, for example. I had to go to the Dollar Store on Parliament Street and buy four huge buckets to keep the salads in, and then we had nowhere big enough to store them. But the contents ended up in decorative platters and bowls and looked great, and people seemed to think the food was good. There was more than enough. Way, way more than enough, though there were around sixty people here.
By now it was nine and there was something afoot, I was pushed to the back and everyone gathered, and there were two cakes brought in, one with “Happy Birthday Beth,” and the other, “and Do and Ron and Lani and Lynn,” the other birthday people. I blew out the candle on one cake and Auntie Do the other. My son made a moving and beautiful speech. Lynn made a hilarious speech in which she sang snippets of songs and recounted various amusing bits of my dysfunctionality to the merriment of all.
And then I spoke. And this is what I said, I think. So happy to see beautiful mother and auntie. To see the Blin family from France and great and glorious friends from my childhood, work, the neighborhood, the Y – from all over. And my amazing and wonderful children who did such a great job to make this event possible.
I spoke about my luck – in health, family, work. And, I said, my great luck in having a gift for friendship. At some point, I said, I looked at each of you and thought, Yes, we’ll be keeping you. Or perhaps you looked at me and thought the same. And here we all are. I quoted the article in a recent Globe saying that they’ve found that people with strong relationships are 50% more likely to live a long life than those without. “So,” I said, “what we are doing here is not just celebrating a birthday. We are keeping each other alive.”
If strong relationships are a sign of a long life, I said, then I’m a lucky parent, because my very social children are both going to live to be 140. And because all of us here are people who value friendship, I asked them all to come back on August 1st, 2020, same time, same address, for the next big party. Which will be catered.
I told them I loved them and to please pick up a blog book on the way out, and I didn’t cry. And then we ate cake and there was music and there were many good people all around. By 1 a.m. the place was nearly empty except for the cool people at the back. A bunch of us did a big clean up, empties, garbage, recycling, dishes, it takes a village to clean up after a party. At last I went to bed, and got back up at 2.30 to ask the young ones to keep it down. Just like the old days when they lived here.
The next morning I could hardly believe it was over, but when I came down, I saw that it was. We’d managed to cram the massive quantities of leftovers into the fridge upstairs and the one in the apartment downstairs, the piles of presents were untouched in the living room, the garden was the worse for wear – but bit by bit, things came together. Monday was wonderful, so relaxed, more than enough food and dear people dropping by – Lani and Maurice, Mum and Do, Karen and Marta-Elena, Louise, Ken, my brother Mike and his partner Emilie and 3 year old Jake, who’d danced till 1 a.m. himself. A high point, dancing with my nephew. People ate and told stories, and the day was hot, and many empties were returned to the beer store. At some point I opened presents – wine and dark chocolate and books, CD’s and Champagne, a hand-embroidered tablecloth and a wall hanging, a handmade print, flowers, a silver bracelet from Lynn that’s just the same as hers, and contributions to my new bicycle fund. Thoughtful, my friends are, generous, kind, fun.
Among other things from Wayson, a fridge magnet that says, “It doesn’t get any better than this.” French neighbour Monique went on about my kids as cooks and hosts and the garden and the very nice guests. “You must be proud of your life, Beth,” she said, and I said, well yes I am. It was a long, hard haul to get here, and I am proud of my life.
The French crowd were getting ready to go camping today, so there was list-making and packing and finding of GoreTex to lend. Today eight guests, including six campers, left, and I got Mum and Do from their hotel to the airport, and on the way home, stopped in at the Y for a long stretch and a long shower. Home to a house piled with food and stuff and garbage and recycling, but empty of people. Blessedly, temporarily, silent.
And here I am, just at home, sixty years and three days old. It doesn’t get better than this.

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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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