by Rev. John Farmer
Happy Birthday to me
Last Sunday a Church youngster asked me “how many old was I?” He’d rush down the hall to wish me a “Happy Birthday,” whilst counting his little fingers on both hands.
With beautiful, yet contorted measure, his hands both arrived at eight, however, he was truly only four. After hugs and kisses we attempted to mutually explain our age differences. Having boldly thanked him for his greetings, I tried to make our fingers count seventy-six. Though it was hard to get this chap to understand, he smiled saying “in seventy-two years we would be the same age.” Oh well.
We had started my birthday observances while on our IBC Youth Evangelism Conference trip to Pigeon Forge, Tenn. This is an annual sojourn for our youth six-grade and above to be exposed to the ministry of Scott Dawson of Strength to Stand, home-quartered in Alabama. We merged our teens with over 8,000 other teens, gospel rock bands, gifted speakers and chaperones.
Safely home, Miss Hazel planned to merge my birthday with our annual IBC luncheon, review and vote to approve the 2018 church history. Well now, “Cecil B. deHazel” is an awesome force when appointed any task, so I knew it would be a stellar day indeed.
During the piano prelude by David Graham, all our IBC youth processed down the aisle holding streamers with 76 balloons. Smiles, applause and love followed throughout the Sanctuary. Cameras erupted.
Teen after teen mounted the pulpit to thank our congregation for sending them to the memorable Tennessee trip. Others performed as ushers, offering bearers and so forth. The army of adult prayer partners we recognized. Mind you, all the while, Hazel was on and off the organ bench to direct and choreograph the pageant holy. Few times in life are folks ever so moved as by youthful enthusiasm and discovery. Dry eyes were in retreat.
After the final amen and receipt of a new family to membership, we reassembled in the fellowship hall to dine upon soup, sandwiches and birthday cake large enough to land planes upon.
Also making it a superb weekend occasion, my younger sister had arrived to stay with our Northumberland County first-cousin Sherri Mesco, so as their mutual pups could entertain each other.
Actually, and formally, I should introduce Jo as my half-sister as we shared the same mom. But I have never thought of her as half of anything. She has always been a delight to me. Sure, we struggled at times about such things as why we had different grandparents and different periods and locations of visitation.
Much of our shared youth was bifurcated as our ages and interests were separated by seven-and-a half years.
I bounced from paternal grandmother, mom and dad and back, Fork Union Military Academy eventually the U.S. Marines while Jo grew, went to college and married a former U.S. Navy chap.
Whilst we were all preparing for and celebrating Christmas 2018, the love of Jo’s life died, having suffered years of debilitating health.
She has shared with me how she’s marked time following Bill’s passing. One could imagine recovery occurring in an assortment of ways, just sharing how one lady is making it through. Sending this along for others to consider.
First Jo removed no longer needed medical equipment. Then went through the house and redecorated with fresh paint to obscure years of cigar smoke which had been such a part of Bill’s life. Then she had the house repainted and having removed wall decorations and pictures for the painter, she only replaced them with items which portrayed the two of them, no longer comfortable with items his and hers. She inventoried collectables and assigned them to relatives who she thought would appreciate each and set out to disperse cherished memories, which was at least in part the reason for her journey here and our family during the birthday season.
Being such a wonderful family with differing assemblage, we took my birthday to waterfront Willaby’s, Carl Padow’s at Innsbrook, which had been our common grandmother Wilkinson’s former Oregon Hill, Richmond, grocer. We spread wide the tables at KC’s Crabs & Cues, Kilmarnock, and finally gathered at The Outback, Mechanicsville, for our eight-person cousin farewell.
Today Jo and her pup, Cricket, captured a flight home and one would suppose all the rest of us (and her) would resume life as normal. Yet, I am painfully aware that for Jo, her new normal is far from how she might have thought her future to have played out. Prayers abide.
The residual blessing of our cousin-birthday weekend was that spouses Bert and Hazel got to share in how Jeanette, Sherri, Donna, Janet, Jo and I related as kids. Stories of all our parents, our lives through successes and failures, and now as grandparents had evolved, must surely have bored spouses Hazel and Bert. Our one common sad-admitted failure is that we’ve lost touch with two of our Wilkinson kin.
Throughout each meal we shed tears of joy and sadness for those no longer with us and the upcoming issues of life unfolding with the kids and grands. In the past, we had such a similar grand weekend here with Hazel’s Shelton and Abbott cousins.
Imagine, me at 76 being rebirthed in families ranging new and old, far and wide.
My God is a wonderful God – “Happy Birthday to me…”