It is 1985.
My mother’s birthday is approaching. She will be 39. She has been 39 for at least ten years. She was 29 for ten years before that. She tells the story about being Den Mother of our Cub Scout den when one of the boys asked me her age and I replied without hesitation ‘29’.
She has been dating Len, an architect, for a several years. He really cares about her. But he is a widower. His wife died of cancer. He is reluctant to marry again. They date and have fun together, but I know she wants something more.
Len’s 60th birthday follows hers by a couple of days. They have a joint birthday party at Len’s condo. His daughters have arranged for a three-tiered cake covered in white fondant. Embedded in the fondant are 115 candles, representing their combined ages.
Go ahead. You do the math. She’s 39.
This is a good idea in theory. Two of Len’s daughters and I begin lighting the candles with long wooden matches. I realize two things: First, that unless we hurry, the first candles lit will be completely melted by the time we light the last one. Second, there are so many candles burning that we soon reach a point where it is hard to find a way to light the remaining candles without being burned.
But we manage to do it. I am certain that the heat is picked up by Soviet spy satellites and that for a few minutes their command and control system is trying to decide if it is the heat bloom of a missile launch.
Fortunately, Len’s living room has a vaulted ceiling so we don’t need to call the fire department.
We sing ‘Happy Birthday’ and everyone claps as they blow out what candles they can. The golden light bathes my mother’s face. Her blue eyes shine with happiness.
She has a crooked smile due to a partial bridge. She’s always been self-conscious of it. When I took her picture for her real estate collateral she only asked that I make her smile look good.
Her smile is beautiful.
This is the last time she will be 39 again.
Now she is forever 39.