on half a century and five years with less left to go

Somewhere in this wide weary world I have already passed this milestone, this pleasant middling moment of turning 55, but in the small town where I actually arrived on this planet, it is still some hours away. My mother—while propped up in a hospital bed shortly afterward, in a gorgeous negligee with a princess-cut over-jacket complete with bell-shaped sleeves—wrote about that in a padded pink baby book, making sure I would know for all time that I wasn’t willing to wait for the doctor to show up and instead made my entrance without his help.

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She’s gone now, so I cannot say thanks anymore for all she did after that first nine months and then the several anguished hours it took to get my feet headed for terra firma or all the years afterward she tried to keep them on a viable path. Any list of Things To Thank Mama For is incomplete, but here are a few never far from the top. Mama taught me me to: work hard; not backsass elders even when they deserved it; say Yes ma’am and No sir and Thank you and Please; stick with a task (like piano) until it’s under my skin; rescue a wounded raccoon or deer and nurse it back to life; and pick butter beans in a hard driving rain and enjoy myself.

That I know anything at all about my first few years is due to her habit of documenting them, with an 8mm home movie camera and handwritten notes, and also because she kept telling stories about the early me long after she’d quit writing them down. Following her lead and example, I took up the habit on the cusp of turning five whole years old and have kept it up ever since for all sorts of less-than-entirely-holy reasons.

It would be nice to get a phone call from my mother today, but heaven doesn’t do outbounds, it seems, so I carry on some of our long-ago conversations in snippets, savoring having survived to 50 and 5, feeling not a smidgen of one whit older than 30 in my body and something closer to 15 in my brain. Or possibly 5 tops, on some days. Mama always said I showed up here as full-grown as I was ever going to get. Sometimes this was a compliment and I took it as such. Sometimes it was not and I knew it to the bone, but I persisted and eventually she’d nod my way and agree. She was right, I believe.

I was an old soul on arrival and still am; I aged 50 years in the first letter I penned to the Almighty at age 5, and no part of me can un-know this way of inhaling truth or barging into reality at top speed and determined. It just all is, and so I mark today, unsurprisingly, with a few words. Solely to say I am still here, for half a century and five years and still counting . . . but aware now that I probably have less time left to go than I’ve already served. And I was right, Mama dear, I believe now, not to wait on that doctor. I got 15 more whole minutes of this grand adventure we call life by coming on my own timing and terms. With your help. Thank you for my birthday.

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