A stillness has settled over the house, quiet. There are no errands to run, no foods to prepare, no lists to consult. The house has been returned, nearly, to its pre-party state, with one distinct difference: It's clean. Parties are good prompters of house-cleaning.
So. Now it is Sunday. The birthday whirlwind has given way to a whisper of a breeze, the kind that barely stirs the curtains or nudges a leaf across the grass.
Friday, the official day, was spent largely in preparation for Saturday. But there was plenty of birthdayness therein. My mom stopped by at our appointed walking time, unsure if we were going for a walk (nope) then returned with my father later for my requested birthday breakfast of cheese potato soup.
On Wednesday, out walking, she asked me what I'd like for breakfast on my birthday. Mom makes a big deal out of birthdays. Always has. When I was little, I'd have breakfast in bed and whatever I wanted for dinner and she'd make a cake or buy a cake depending on my request and she and dad would festoon the kitchen with crepe-paper streamers – two colors, always, twisted together, and balloons at all the edges where the streamers were taped to the ceiling.
Little has changed. Well, the crepe paper is a thing of the past.
While we walked, she ticked off breakfast ideas: pancakes, French toast (mom makes sensational French toast), ham, bacon, the usual breakfast suspects. No, I said, over and over, that wasn't what I wanted.
I often don't know what I have a taste for, especially a couple of days in advance.
But then I decided on soup. A restaurant near me makes cheese potato soup that will make you weep. So that's what I announced as my choice.
"Soup?" my mom asked.
"Yep," I said, as we kept walking. "I should get used to drinking my meals."
So we had soup for my birthday breakfast. And I opened my gift, a serving piece, made by a local potter, that I've had my eye on for some time. They had also brought an arrangement of ruby-red carnations and assorted greenery. A few weeks ago, I'd walked into my parent's house and spied carnations on the counter that were the most incredible shade of deep burgundy, so mom had called the florist and asked them to put together an arrangement of them for my birthday. The flowers she picked up weren't exactly the shade she was hoping for, but they go very well with the curtains in my dining room.
And later, they left, and I set about preparing food for the party on Saturday. A lot of food. More food than we would possibly eat. I always know that, in the moment. I know that I'm overpreparing, and yet there's a tiny voice in my brain, a tiny Serbian voice, saying, "I don't know if this will be enough."
It is always enough. It is always enough times 10. But the Serbian voice will not be silenced.
It's a good thing I like leftovers.
Having washed a lot of dishes, I hopped in the shower hoping I hadn't depleted the hot water. I had not. So I showered and shampooed and tried to bend my hair to my will and headed over to mom and dad's for dinner.
Every year, mom makes lasagna for my birthday because every year, I want my mom's lasagna. It is the best. Ever. On this planet or any other.
I walked in just behind my brother and his family, greeted my cousins who'd flown in from New York, made my way into the kitchen, and spied a splint on my mother's hand.
"I had a little accident," she said. And proceeded to tell me that she slammed her finger in her car door and then took herself to the emergency room, since she'd broken a bone and required stitches.
My mother, ever the pragmatist, told the ER staff that she had to get out of there as soon as possible, as it was her daughter's 40th birthday and there were people coming over for dinner. An hour later, she was home, stitched and splinted and ready to go.
On the counter, among other noshy bits, was a divided dish filled half with dark chocolate-covered almonds and half with dark chocolate-covered raisins. I was happily munching away and made some mention about them, as they were an atypical appetizer (though mom had intended to put them in the living room and just hadn't gotten around to it before everyone arrived) and that's when others realized that they weren't black olives.
We sat down to dinner, the always-simple menu of lasagna, garlic bread, and salad, and then had cake, which is always white cake with lemon filling frosted with stabilized whipped cream, not that gritty bakery buttercream which I am convinced is simply sugar stirred into a vat of Crisco. Cutting the cake, I gave my nephew and niece pieces with flowers on them. Because no matter how old you are, there's something about a frosting flower on your piece of cake.
My cousin Patty retrieved the birthday loot from the living room and set it in front of me.
My brother's family contributed money in my name to The Heifer Project, an organization of which I am very fond. If you don't already know about it, you should. Click here to find out more.
I riffled through the tissue in the gift bag from Patty and Barry to find my way inside. I parted the paper and gasped. There, tucked amid all the black tissue, was a little blue box tied with a white satin ribbon.
My first-ever gift from Tiffany.
Inside the little blue box was a little blue suede pouch. Inside the little blue suede pouch was a sterling-silver floating heart pendant. Of course, I put it on right away.
Eventually, everyone began to stir and get ready to go home. I left with a little bit of lasagna (for breakfast the next morning) and the remainder of my cake.
Which I shared with mom on Saturday morning, with coffee. And then I proceeded to tackle the day's to-do list.
Patty and Barry came over to help with preparations and I surely could not have pulled off everything without them. They are very helpful sorts.
Once I crossed off all but one item on the list, they returned to my brother's house to get ready for the party. I intended to do the same – get ready, that is – but kept finding little things to do.
I eventually got in the shower. And then I cleaned the bathroom, the last item on the list.
P and B arrived again to help plate all the appetizers and arrange the spread. Mom and dad arrived with the dessert she was contributing to the offerings and in short order, everything was ready. All we needed was more guests.
Who arrived in a steady stream, perfect for greeting. Not everyone all at once, but a consistent flow of saying hello and taking coats and getting each person something to drink and then doing it all over again for the next arrival.
It was lovely to have a houseful of people, but not so many that I couldn't chat with everyone.
Despite the invitation's request of my guests that they not bring gifts, they brought gifts. Which was very thoughtful.
Many of them also brought wine. And champagne.
All of which was very much appreciated. The thank-you cards are waiting to be mailed. (Yes, Jay, I do
have to send one to you, even though you always tell me they're not necessary.)
But I must say, of all the things everyone gave to me, what I cherish most from them is what they wrote in their cards. I didn't open gifts in front of everyone, I waited until I was alone. And I'm glad. Not that I really would have minded if they saw me cry, but I was grateful for the solitude so I could focus on what they had to say.
I am overwhelmed by everyone's kindness. And I am grateful to them for letting me know what's in their hearts. I, of course, feel the same way about them. Even more so, if that's possible. I am surrounded by amazing people. I am grateful for them beyond measure.
Their words are especially well timed. They give me courage, because sometimes it's scary to become who you are meant to be.
So today, with the dishes washed and the glassware packed away, I will bask in the need to do nothing in particular.
Once again, my love and thanks to all who made this birthday the best yet. You are gifts to me every day.