Connections: Many Happy Returns

Forty-nine was a good age to celebrate because it was still younger than 50

   I’m not alone, obviously, in being reluctant to submit to a party on my birthday. I haven’t had a real one since the year I turned 49 and threw one for myself, with a packed house and the kids helping prepare the food — a barbecued leg of lamb, if I remember correctly. That was the 1980s, when parties usually ended up with lots of noise and friends drinking to the music of early Frank Sinatra.
    Forty-nine was a good age to celebrate because it was still younger than 50. That party was held indoors, because my birthday falls in autumn, but most of our family birthdays are celebrated outside: Two of my children and three of my grandchildren were born in June or July. Birthday-party season is a long streak of popsicles, bonfires, and paper cups scattered by the wind.
    (My husband’s birthday comes in summer, too, in late August. I remember a particular big one, when we set up two long tables in the yard and hung dozens of paper lanterns.)
    Try as hard as I might, I just cannot believe the grown man who is my oldest child will be 50 in a few days. We aren’t having a big bash, but he had one once, on his 40th at the pavilion at Maidstone Park. Somehow he doesn’t seem so keen on a major celebration now, 10 years later.
    Anyway, he has had a big party each summer, his entire life, when the Devon Yacht Club sets off the Fourth of July fireworks over Gardiner’s Bay. The size of the Fourth of July party has waxed and waned with the mood of the decades, from an annual bacchanalia with cars parked halfway to Montauk to a gorgeous, but much more quiet, gathering of the clan in less go-go times. But what a boon it has been for our family to have a house at the beach, and a perfect view, all these years.
    We had a low-key celebration of the 12th birthday of my oldest granddaughter, the ballerina, last weekend — and the present she suggested I get her arrived in a big box yesterday. Her aunt, in Nova Scotia, gave her the now-vintage set of  “Anne of Green Gables” books that she’d gotten on her own 12th birthday, lo so many years ago (although it remains to be seen whether those romantic stories still hold power over the modern adolescent mind).
    The ballerina’s sister, who is a synchronized swimmer, will celebrate her 9th birthday at a beach party before the end of this month. And then comes the birthday for Nettie, in Canada, who will be 6 on July 9. I hear that there will be pony rides, and a Monster High fashion doll wearing a skirt made of vanilla cake and cherry icing. As it happens, July 9 was also the day Nettie’s late grandfather Everett would have been 81, and her great-grandfather, my father, Abe, would have been 115. Isn’t that something to celebrate?