My friend Mary is turning fifty years old today. I believe that it is quite a feat. And one that I hope to match next year. It is one of those birthdays that truly feel like a milestone but maybe not in the way that you’d like. Of course, the alternative does not seem all that great, so what is there to do except grin and bear it?
I met Mary at the environmental lab that I was working at after college. It was so very long ago and kind of a blur but I remember that at some point she invited me over to the house that she was living in at the time. I went for lunch and she made the best grilled cheese sandwich that I had ever had. I am pretty sure that it was the first time I ever ate sun dried tomatoes. Mary is a great cook. She is one of those people who can just make something. I don’t recall her ever looking at a recipe except maybe for Thai food but that’s only because there are 500 ingredients in every dish.
Mary is the only person who came and visited me while I was in the Peace Corps in Thailand. She even came and stayed at my land settlement with me. Some of my most vivid memories from being there are when she was there. My boss at the land settlement was not the nicest guy and he did not want to give me time off while she was visiting. I remember arguing about taking time to travel down south so there was no way he was going to let me take a day trip with my co-workers. But they insisted. One of my co-workers arranged the transportation and on the way, up on the main road, we got a flat tire. I just remember being super paranoid that my boss would see me out on the side of the road and I would get in trouble. It didn’t happen. We ate at least one dinner with my co-workers while we were on the land settlement. And they were lovely and gracious. And Mary just rolled with it because she is like that.
When we finally left to go down south, we took a train. One of the sleeper ones. I remember the train conductor asking us why we were so fat. It wasn’t meant in a rude and mean way but sometimes it was hard to remember that. We got to our destination and had a drink. Mary’s was in a pineapple. I remember we met a man who owned a Thai restaurant there who also owned a Thai restaurant in the town my dad grew up in. Sometimes the world is small.
Mary is a no nonsense kind of person. She is also quick to give you the shirt off her back. When I moved back to NY for six months with my son when he was in second grade, she was in between jobs and I worked at the town marina. Once a week we tried to get together to be ladies who lunch. We would go to the lunch truck and get grown up grilled cheese sandwiches and fries and head to one of the local wineries. It is more difficult these days to find one that will let you bring outside food in but we always managed to find one. We often found ourselves sitting outside with our food, with a lovely local wine (almost always white), looking out over the vineyard. I loved that time of year. When I go and visit during the summer these days, we always try to relive those times. But it is not that simple. The weather is too hot. The wineries full of tourists. Our schedules too busy. We try to recreate it. When it felt magic. But it is hard.
When people are over Mary cooks and she cooks a lot. And she cooks well (I may have mentioned that). She has fed my family more times than I can count. When my son goes to the beach with her family, she gets him breakfast and makes sure there are sandwich fixings that he likes. She makes sure that the vegetarians never go hungry and she freely shares her wine with whoever shows up. And she is always up for the fire pit and s’mores making.
My sad attempt at doing something for her big day falls way short in my mind (in fact, if it gets there by her actual birthday, it will be a miracle). But maybe a big to-do isn’t really what she would want anyway. Maybe just a trip to one of the local wineries and a nice dinner that she did not cook herself. Maybe just a little something so that she knows how much we love her and how grateful and blessed we are to have her in our lives. Because we are. Happy fiftieth friend! May your day be even more wonderful than you are.