A Birthday to Remember

Forgive me for borrowing a chapter title from one of my favorite authors, but it seems appropriate at this point. Yesterday (10/23/2022), my wife and I drove down to Aiken to help throw a birthday party for my mom. She turned 85 and we wanted to celebrate with her and a few close friends.

Let me set the stage for the party. Mom lives at 809 Fermata Place in Aiken; SC. Fermata Place is a small dead-end road (approximately 500 feet long) at the end of Berrie Road. There are 10 houses on Fermata Place, 5 on either side of the road.  The road is surrounded by the Hitchcock Woods (a 2200 acre protected woods in the center of town) and the Palmetto Golf Club.

Shortly after mom and her parents moved to Aiken in the 1950s, they built a house at 810 Fermata Place. Years later, mom met dad, they got married and they started a life of their own. When I was a couple months old, they bought the house at 813 Fermata Place. I lived there for the first 9 years of my life. My Grandfather (I called him Grampy) still lived across the street and two houses up. We moved away from there in 1973, and Grampy moved with us into am apartment built over the garage in our new house.

In 1999, mom and dad decided to build their final house together. The house at the top of the hill on Fermata Place had burned down and the lot at 809 Fermata Place was for sale. Mom was able to buy the property. She and dad hired the same architect from their 1973 house, and they built “Fiddler’s Green” (the name they gave her current house). Over the next several years, I had many opportunities to visit them and to see the street where I was raised. I spent time walking in the woods that I wandered as a child, and I pictured bicycle rides down Berrie road, as well as outdoor activities at most of the houses on Fermata Place.

The neighborhood was something straight out of the Andy Griffith show. We had a community ladder for getting up to the gutters to clean leaves. Whoever used it last just left it out in their back yard and the next person would walk over and grab it when needed. Other things were shared that way as well. I knew all the families that lived there. Lynne and I were allowed to wander the street without fear of getting lost or being kidnapped, and we could always count on getting treats, or being reminded to mind our manners if called for.

Fast forward to October 23, 2022. I was helping my wife and sister setup the house for mom’s party. I needed some Scotch tape to hang a couple of signs, but Mom did not have any. I called a friend of mom’s named Katy. She and her family live at 813 Fermata Place (sound familiar?) She had the tape I needed, and the party went on without another hitch.

After the party and the cleanup, my wife and I were about ready to leave for the short drive back home. As we all stood in the driveway saying goodbye, I heard a leaf blower down the street. Katy’s husband was out cleaning the leaves in the yard, and I remembered the tape I had borrowed. I ran back inside, grabbed the tape, and walked back down toward the house where I was raised. Katy, her husband Willy, and their 4-year-old son Freddy had all been at the party. Now Willy and Freddy were busy taking care of the leaves. As I got closer, I could see that Katy and her older son were also out in the yard. The outside of the house and the front yard does not appear much different than when I lived there.

I called for Freddy to come help me, and he eagerly came running up the road to see what I needed. I gave him the tape and then watched him run to his mom with it, while his dad continued working with the leaves. I had a very vivid flashback to when I was a young boy playing in the yard with my dad trying to rake leaves while my sister and I wandered around the yard being “oh so helpful for dad.” I pictured mom coming out to check on progress, or to tell us that dinner was ready, or to take a picture or two.

As I sit in my house this morning writing this, I think about how blessed I am, and how much family means to me. We all have things that get us down, and we all have various struggles in our lives, but some of us (myself included) have so much to be thankful for. I think about the fact that my mom is still around to visit, that I have a wife who has taught me how to really cherish the small things in life, and that I have a family of my own to love. I think about the friends that came to the party and shared in laughter, stories and memories of a life being well lived. I think about the joy on my mom’s face as she wandered around the house visiting with people. I think about the wonderful tales of mom they shared with each other and me. I think of mom sitting at her piano in the living room when I was a kid, playing Beethoven’s Sonata Pathetique or some other music.

But even more so than all of that, I think that I have the good fortune to know the people that currently live in the house where I grew up, and that I had a chance to witness in real life a scene from the 1960’s where my dad, my mom, my sister, and I spend a Sunday evening enjoying the beautiful fall weather in Aiken, cleaning the leaves from our yard. How many people get a chance to travel back in time 50+ years and actually see their childhood in real life?

Mom, this party was for you, but (as you have done so many times in the past) you gave me more than I gave you.