Its not every day you get invited to a 90th birthday party. Although the average life expectancy of an American is now 78.2 years, 90 years is still quite an accomplishment. Especially when you are 90 and still an active, functioning adult. Its funny to think that at 25, even 65 seems an eternity away and quite old. A whole lifetime of things will happen to me between 25 and 65. But, if I was to live as long as Pearl has, I would celebrate another 25 birthdays beyond 65. Something crazy to think about.
What: Pearl’s 90th Birthday Party
Where: Frisella’s Roastery, Glendora
Why it was Awesome:
Michael and I had been looking forward to Pearl’s birthday for several weeks, mainly because Pearl wouldn’t let him forget about it. Pearl, along with a dozen or so other ladies of varying degrees of venerability, attend Michael’s water aerobics workouts two to three times a week. They ask about his life and gossip about theirs. When I walked into the party on Saturday the whole flock was very happy to meet me and tell me how much they hear about me before, during, and after every class. I felt a little bit like a local celebrity. Pearl’s whole family, who I had never met, was there and all of them were equally happy to meet me and tell me how much Pearl adores Michael. Apparently his class is the highlight of her week–a fact I heard from several generations of smiling children and grandchildren. some of which had flown out from the east coast for the occasion. There was a fabulous dinner, the granddaughters sung a great filk of ‘These Are a Few of My Favorite Things’ about aging, and several of her relatives stood up to give toasts. They were all very heartfelt–there were four generations at the party–but one in particular stuck in my mind. One of Pearl’s grandchildren started off by naming a list of people who had also been born in 1922: Judy Garland, Betty White, and Sid Ceasar to name a few. “But,” he said, “None of the people on this list have influenced the lives of the people in this room like Pearl.” Pearl got teary eyed and sloshed her wine glass a little as she adjusted her pink tiara and read off her prepared notes thanking everyone for coming and saying how grateful she was to be able to spend so many years with everyone there. It was one of the more memorable parties I’ve ever been to, even though I barely knew anyone there.
I must admit that I often get caught up in the ambition to be remembered. I feel like a bad person for voicing this although I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. I want to create something, to make a mark, to share an idea, that will carry my memory beyond my lifetime. Often times I get depressed thinking about it. The world is so big and keeps getting bigger–how can one person in seven billion stand out? But I think Pearl’s grandson has the right idea. You may not have the ability influence millions, but you do have the ability to influence the lives of those around you. And often the people who influence millions do not make as deep a footprint as those, like Michael and Pearl, who influence a few. Maybe I’ve just been looking in the wrong direction.
If my grandfather was alive, he would be turning 100 this year. He didn’t quite make it to that really big birthday, he passed away at 96, but Pearl’s 90th birthday this weekend made me think of him. Like Pearl, he didn’t change the lives of millions, but I will always remember how he and I built balsa wood airplanes and how his golf ball collection took up an entire wall of the garage and how he would spell funny things with the orange ones against the white ones. How he let me ‘help’ him put together the doll carriage he bought me for Christmas or how his nose seemed to grow wider and wider every year as he aged. Or how he would slap his knee and pretend to laugh very loudly at corny jokes. I only hope that as I grow older and have a family of my own I can focus more on enriching the lives of those around me like Pearl and my grandfather did. I’m going to pass down memories of him to my children and I know that Pearl’s children and grandchildren will do the same with her memories. What people find beautiful, interesting, or relevant will always change. Technologies that are hot today will be defunct in five years. Popular books and movies will grow dusty and dated. But the memories of where you came from, the stories of your ancestors, and the lessons of people who changed the direction of your life will always be relevant. Take that, Judy Garland!
See you next week!