“Chronicles” assumes a report about birthdays. I celebrated mine last week. The weather here was a balmy 9 degrees so we had a pleasant walk along the Boundary Bay dyke (eagle spotting is one of my husband’s favourite activities) and greetings popped into my email box and phone and Facebook feed all day and there were phone calls with a son, daughter, sisters, my mother, a friend, and just the day before I’d received some good news from a publisher (which I’ll say more about later), so I was buoyant and grateful and contented and feeling very much loved. (Love has an agelessness about it that’s especially welcome on birthdays.) Later we enjoyed a delicious roast beef dinner and cake with our Tsawwassen children and grands at their house, followed by a lively game of Apples to Apples. A couple days later H. and I went out for a belated birthday dinner of our own and I had a dish of chicken livers which in addition to the conversation was simply perfect. The card drawn for me by a granddaughter demonstrates that 69 candles requires a rather large and multi-levelled cake, but I quite like the number, actually, with its multiple triads/trinities. And that was the birthday, happy and tucked in for another year.
I intended to write today about words I’ve been losing (though eventually finding), like “omelet” and “dominoes”. The author of “5 tips to tame word-finding difficulties” says losing words happens to everyone, though increases with age. Does it ever!
Then I came upon Billy Collins’ poem “Forgetfulness”, which describes the phenomenon so perfectly! Here, from the Poetry Foundation, where you can also listen to it, “Forgetfulness.”
The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read, never even heard of,
as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.
Long ago you kissed the names of the nine muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,
something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.
Whatever it is you are struggling to remember,
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue
or even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.
It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall
well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.
No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.
We spent Christmas week in Toronto with second Son and his family, and Daughter joined us a few days too. We had a wonderful time.
One afternoon, the agenda included skating. How many years had it been since last I skated? Twenty? I practically grew up on skates but this gradually faded from my adult life, perhaps because my husband comes from Paraguay and had not learned to skate.
The rented skates weren’t perfectly straight and I was wobbly at first but slowly I gained my skating legs, and there we were, representatives of three generations rounding an outdoor Toronto rink, snow falling lightly, the air perfectly crisp but not too cold. Every circle I took enlarged the happiness in me, this lovely activity in the lovely winter air like a breeze tugging me back to hours skating on a rink just like this one in a small Alberta town, round and round and round, perfecting my strokes and crossovers and stops and everything else.
“Hey, look, Mom can skate backwards!” Son called, as if he could hardly believe it. Then I watched him circle and power about and honestly, I was amazed at his prowess. And I found myself repeatedly praising the eight-year-old because of how much she’s advanced in her skating skills.
And so it goes, I thought, when families get together: we’re mutually astonished. That the old can still manage this or that, that adult children who just yesterday were learning (and needed help, right?) are so incredibly competent, that the little ones are bounding up behind us. It’s as if we really can’t believe any of it.