Young people don’t believe when older people say they forget how old they are. What they don’t realize is that 42 is not that different than 43. Add a year to 12 though and the new number is like a just-bought pair of tight shoes that need some breaking in. Read Sandra Cisneros’ wonderful story, “Eleven,” for a nostalgic take on young birthdays (from her collection House on Mango Street).
I went out for my daily bicycle ride of about 18 miles. Last week I treated myself to an early birthday present and bought a case for the bike frame that would hold my phone. I tuck that baby into the case and turn on some tunes (because I don’t want to wear headphones while I ride, which is stupid) and take off. The only thing better would be to attach an AM radio tuned to WLS, but it would have to be the WLS of 1968 or thereabouts. I came close today as I listened to the best of the Temptations. If it’s possible to dance while riding a bicycle, that’s what I did. (By the way, why does cycle change its pronunciation when bi or tri is added?)
I was riding along some prairie path trails, one that doubles as a horse trail, and saw great mounds of horse shit in the middle of the path. What I wondered is whether dog owners who use that trail clean up their dog’s shit, and if they do, I want to ask them, Why bother, given what the horses have deposited? This reminded me of stepping in dog shit when I was a kid, which happened often because no one, I mean no one, picked up after their dog. I remember the delicate operation of wiping clean the grooves in the bottom of my Converse shoes with the first available twig or pointy rock. Back then, if you were to pick up your dog’s shit, people would have looked at you and asked, What are you doing? That’s dog shit. Which shows the power of norms because I can’t recall the last time I stepped on dog shit because everyone now picks up. You’d be a pariah if you didn’t.
Just before heading home, I stopped at a garage sale, and the seller asked if I was looking for something for my grandkids. Shit. I wasn’t feeling any older until that moment. I do not have any grandchildren and don’t feel I’m close, though I’m probably closer than I want to imagine. I left without buying anything.
The day was not all sun and song and sweet recollections of stepping on dog shit. I also thought about my mom, who passed away in March, so this of course is my first birthday without her in this world. I got a little choked up more than once because I had the impulse to call her, to thank her for my very existence. It’s not a thought I recall dredging up on previous birthdays. In fact, I don’t recall granting her any particular prominence on this date, as if I’d forgotten the birthing part, her point of view. My birthday was about me. I suppose it’s natural to take your mom for granted, even on your birthday, but gratitude was an easy gift I should have extended when I could. Thanks, Mom, for this gift of a day.