90th Birthday Celebration – Five Days of Marching Forth
Friday, March 3, 2017. My neighbor, Chelsea, invited me to attend the ArtWalk in Anacortes with her and her daughter, Aisling, who at 2 1/2 years is just to age of my great grandson in Vermont. After a pizza and- for the adults some- good micro beers, we strolled in the rain to Ann Reid’s studio to appreciate her intricate black paper cutouts on white background and from there to Burton Jewelers where we moved, stroller and all, through a nice crowd of onlookers who admired the jewelry and art work while listening to a live vocalist and munching on an assortment of foods and sipping wine. I’ve never experienced such a festive jewelry store. Chelsea, a certified appraiser, engaged the young owner in conversation. He ended up showing us one of their recent acquisitions, a 1/3 carat blue diamond. I guessed its value at $13,500. Its market value: $75,000. And still tiny in size for all that. Our evening ended at Chelsea’s, eating Rocky Road ice cream and talking. So enjoyable being with them, seeing myself as grandfather to Chelsea and great grandfather to Aisling. I’m particularly taken by Aisling’s gestures when she sees me, crying out “Bob, Bob” and opening her arms wide for me to pick her up and hold her. I look forward to our Tuesday nights together, going to the local Mexican restaurant for tacos at half-price. Not once did I get an inkling that Chelsea knew anything about my surprise birthday party let alone that she purchased a decorated cake for it !
Saturday, March 4, 2017. My son, John, and his wife Beth arrived at the house around 3:30 PM and I still didn’t think this was anything but a jolly coincidence. They had told me earlier that they’d be getting in from Baja around my birthday and they had! Just in time to join me and Kornelia for a quiet celebration with candles and champagne as Kornelia had promised. By 4:00 PM on the nose, the four of us were on the boardwalk to await a boat to take us to our dinner destination which I assumed by now was in Anacortes which would be just the kind of elaborate planning Kornelia was capable of. When we continued walking, I began to have second thoughts and suddenly as we drew even with the LaConner Seafood restaurant, I saw and heard many of my friends pouring out the back door amid shouts of “Happy Birthday”.
Kornelia had done it again, completely fooling me, hiding my surprise party for at least six weeks! The co-conspiritors had done a deceptively good job as well. No leaks. No slips of the tongue. Amazing. And here I am all at once surrounded by 38 of my best friends, welcoming me, embracing me, as we all moved back inside, Kornelia at her best, smoothly orchestrating the event, moving us from enjoying the beautiful birthday cakes to my poetry reading to sit-down dinner, in between, Allen Olsen’s and Mel Danski’s much appreciated remarks about my contribution to their lives and our enduring friendship. Even Brian, Kornelia’s partner, showed up from Columbus, Ohio after only 3 hours sleep ( It was Brian who quietly paid my dinner tab, yet another gift from the heart). And Jason, Charlotte Hess’ friend, managed to make it as well after having just run a half-marathon. To top it off, my good friend, Fred, Katy French’s love, sang his admiration of me with the lyrics to Elton John’s “Your Song “. A truly delightful evening full of good words and wit and still some time for a brief, intimate conversation or two. Surely one of the most special, meaningful times of my life, coming as it does in my 90th year. I feel deeply honored and blessed.
On top of it, I was the recipient of many gifts which I opened later, back at the Inn with Brian, Kornelia and her friend, Susan Glavin, from Vancouver, WA. It turned out to be another party in itself, the quality and variety of the presents a source of enjoyment for all of us. In addition to the three beautiful birthday cakes which we’d dug into earlier, the gifts included a pair of trekking poles, generous gift certificates for the Nell Thorn’s restaurant, the Oyster and Thistle restaurant and the Quantum Yoga studio in Burlington, a luxury bathrobe, seven bottles of signature wines, a number of colorful T-shirts and lounge pants, a large supply of kitchen towels and enough packets of flour, chocolate and nuts to make any muffin baker envious. The home-made jar of granola didn’t make it through the weekend. Kornelia stole the evening by modeling one of the colorful aprons to an appreciative audience.
As delightful were the 30 birthday cards I received, so witty and heart-felt by turn, with many hand-written comments to enjoy and reflect upon. These I saved to open and read the next day, reliving the party and appreciating again all the love and energy that went into the celebration of my 90th birthday.
Sunday, March 5, 2017. The back page of the worship bulletin at the LaConner Methodist Church announced that the social hour following church would focus on celebrating my 90th birthday. Before the congregation could ever get downstairs, it just had to sing happy birthday to me upstairs. And then the co-leader with me of the poetry group read an original poem about me which was brave of her for she’d written little poetry and never had read one publicly. The poem read: Who is that man?/A twinkle in his eye/A handsome fellow/A scholar/A gentleman/ A seeker of the truth/ A lover of the spiritual/A sensitive man/ A poet/ A force that touches the heart of all who see him/ Who is that man? I was astonished at her view of me when I first heard it…and still am. But, of course, pleased, too, to be so highly thought of at least by one person.
Downstairs everybody was able to wet their whistle on some hot coffee or tea and eat the rest of the cake left over from my party yesterday. One couple brought a a fresh cake to supplement the other offerings. My muffins disappeared quickly in spite of all the cake. Members of the poetry group took turns reading their original poetry with me as the subject. In response I spoke to the diners for a few minutes telling my story of my mission of unconditional love following along the lines in my book “On Turning 90”. At one point I talked about the importance of imagination in dealing with problems. That argument brought at least one new student to poetry group who lost her husband in 2014. Altogether a wonderful, celebratorial morning.
That afternoon I celebrated with Chelsea and Aisling, meeting them at McyIntyre Hall on the Skagit College campus. Peter Rabbit and the other characters jumped around on stage, the PA system handling the dialogue between characters. Thr play caught Aisling’s attention most of the time but she was ready for home after the play which was maybe an hour long. After the theater we went back to Chelsea’s for lentil soup and artisan bread and wine. We had a good time just talking with Aisling nearby playing. While Chelsea and Aisling watched one of Aisling’s favorite Mickey Mouse cartoons, I did the stack of dishes and with a group hug soon departed for home. It had been a good day. I learned later that Chelsea had provided one of the big single-layer cakes for the party Saturday. I like hanging out with them, my west coast grandchildren I like to imagine.
Monday, March 6, 2017. Today, we celebrated my birthday with our friends, Ed and Miki Sundin who until recently moved from their beautiful home in Bay View to an assisted living complex at Alpine Ridge on North 17th Street in Mt. Vernon. My close friends, Tricia and Rob picked me up at 10;30 AM and armed with Tricia’s prepared lunch of lobster bisque, salad and cake, headed to Ed and Miki’s new place. Their joint birthday is March 25, so we celebrated the two March birthdays with a couple of bottles of champagne. Ed intended to gift me with one of his paintings but in the confusion gave it to Rob. I was perfectly happy for Rob to keep it. Later, however, Ed phoned Rob to clarify the matter and Rob later brought the picture to me, both of us chuckling over our shared gift. Obviously, Ed’s short-term memory is shot but he still is pleasant and self accepting. We note how frail our dear friends are becoming which makes us want to get together more frequently now. Whenever I take delivery on my books, I’ll be sure to take one to them and maybe bring lunch too. I was tired and got in some rest before poetry class Monday night which turned out to be rewarding. So another good day in my March of birthday celebrations with another big one tomorrow.
Tuesday, March 7, 2017. The picture of me and a short blurb beneath appeared in our local paper in the classifieds. BOB SKEELE TURNS 90 !, it read, Come help celebrate Bob’s birthday. And then the words it’s hard to believe that the guy who buzzes around town delivering muffins, poetry and good cheer, can possibly be 90 years old. Come share his poetry and a piece of cake. Tuesday, March 7 – 12 to 1 – Maple Hall, LaConner Senior Center.
It was a grand hour with 30 or so friends crowded into the front room, the three tables covered with decorative paper and cone-shaped hats and horns scattered around. The front table offered a large birthday cake, handsomely decorated, which invited care-free indulgence. A large basket nearby held all the many colorful birthday cards. One gift item, a small booklet made of elephant dung, was presented to Bob directly complete with a few original poems tucked inside, created by some of my senior center friends. One, by Janna, read Our lives burst upon the scene/ like Fourth of July chrysanthemums of color/ and are spent as quickly/ Of course, that bit of ash left behind is not us/ We are the light. Another short one by Nancy J. alluding to my wife: Love/ She was small and smart/And then all was a jumble/ He took care of her.
Knowing I would probably be standing without a table or lectern in front of me when I was reading, I prepared in advance, selecting the poems I would read using the loose pages from the proof text of my new book rather than the larger loose-leaf binder. It worked well, the small packet of sheets easy to hold and read from and allowed me to move around the room unencumbered. I told the gathered friends how the title “Pink Lady” originated and who the lady was, reading poems about her. I also spoke to the sacred nature of our unusual relationship. In addition I pointed out and read poems from the section called “Love Among the Elderly” I had a wonderful time reading my poetry without all the background noise of the restaurant on Saturday. I was left with the impression that the audience enjoyed it as well.
Endnote: My new book, soon to be published and distributed, will provide another round of readings and entertainment to which I look forward. Meanwhile I relish the memory of the last five days which inspires in me an excitement for the future, for the next chapter in my journey as my muse, too, moves on, sharing with the world the healing gifts she conferred upon me, among them the gift of self-love. In the next years, I hope to discover more about myself, about what it takes to be a practitioner of unconditional love or another of “love’s fools”, as some may want to call it. “Dream on” I hear myself say. And dream on I do. There’s power there, too.
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