When my girls were toddlers, we originated half-birthdays – celebrations marking six months till they turned another year older. Giving us a good excuse to eat cake and act silly in the middle of winter, this tradition stuck into adulthood. “Happy half birthday!” I still shout into the phone, picturing my half-birthday girl treating herself to a cupcake with one festive candle. Posting on Facebook, or planting a candle in a cookie is also acceptable, as long as the sentiment is expressed.
“What’s a half birthday?” one of Helen’s friends wanted to know last January after I acknowledged the occasion on her Facebook wall. “Duh…It means I’m 26-and-a-half years old,” Helen explained, “going on 27!
Tom says my ability to recall dates is a female thing. Whether it’s the specific day back in 1973 he finally asked me out – or when we bought our first car, brought a new beagle home, or traveled to a particular destination – I can rattle off the date like it was yesterday. I can’t say with any certainty who I met or what I read about just yesterday, but ask me to list significant occasions and I’m a savant.
“Hey, I’ve been living in Rangeley for exactly six months today!” I announced recently. “It’s my half anniversary!” We were driving down a dirt road covered with mixed precipitation, which triggered my internal almanac. Half a year had gone by since moving day in May, when I was driving down that same dirt road (covered in mixed precipitation) with the last load crammed into my Subaru!
Why does my date recall click in semi-annually rather than waiting a whole year? And how can I calculate lunar cycles when I can’t even finish a crossword puzzle? Beats me, but I think it has less to do with my gender than it does with my ability to filter my world through the eyes of an overgrown six-year-old. I romanticize the past and dream about tomorrow. Each day I learn something new, I surprise myself. If I’ve been sad and suddenly someone tells a joke, I remember the moment I stopped crying and started laughing again. And, while the kid part of me is doing that, the adult part of me is doing a daily assessment of where I’ve been and how far I still want to go.
It was almost 30 years to the day I’d moved into my house in Rochester that I left it to move to Rangeley. Three decades of birthdays, holidays and weddings I’d celebrated there, mixed in with passings and other sad anniversaries, too. My first house had endured all my momentous occasions and my trivial ones. It sheltered my family, watched us grow. While packing, I thought I’d mourn leaving just a little bit. I thought I’d want to linger in my kitchen near the door frame that tracked each girl’s height from birth through high school with pen carvings in the wood. Instead I felt relieved, ready to start my new life in my favorite home on the lake. As I drove away for the last time, I could almost hear the girls in the back seat, chattering about Indian Cove and s’mores and all the adventures they’d have when we finally got “up to camp.”
I did indulge in a brief period of feeling sorry for myself a couple days after I moved in my last load. I was standing in my new kitchen, watching Tom drive away, and I was as mournful as the beagles to see him leave. His retirement from teaching was still a month away and, weekdays, he had to live with his sister until school was out. Meanwhile, the beagle boys and I had to hold down the fort.
On that lonely afternoon in May, those weeks till Tom could join me for good seemed like forever. But I bucked up, marched away from the window and got busy. I unpacked till the sound of tape being ripped off a box top made me want to cry. When I got tired of stocking cupboards, I blasted WTOS and danced around my kitchen in my PJs. At night when I could finally bring myself to turn the TV and the radio off, I put the wind-up alarm clock from our Moosehead cabin next to my bed, lulling myself to sleep like a puppy. I learned how to bake bread and how to grow flowers. I conquered my childlike cravings for giant gobs of peanut butter and, most days, fed myself dinner salads. I relearned how to like my own company as I watched the lake warm and the lupines bloom. Looking back on it now, that stretch of moving in alone time was a brief blur in the start of my momentous transition year. Before I knew it, Tom had hung up his teacher clothes in favor of jeans and a chamois shirt, and had joined me and the beagles out on the dock to toast his retirement.
Until a week ago, I’d never determined my own half-birthday, figuring it was a rite reserved for my younger generation. But all the beginnings and endings I’d been through must have given my internal calendar wheel a spin. “Well, let’s see, I had my birthday about a week before Tom got here, so that would mean….”
When I turn 54 and a half this month, I’m psyched for some sort of personal harmonic convergence. Turns out, it happens right around Thanksgiving, right after my six month moving in anniversary, and right before Tom’s. I think I’ll find one of Helen’s candles, stick it into a homemade peanut butter sandwich, and rejoice.