Pop’s Birthday

Memory is plastic, bending to our needs, and rarely retains the form of the original events. Just the same, I cling to mine as though it was a lifeline tossed from some safe spit of land fading in the fog of age.  I’m sure some of this must have really happened.

Pop in front of his school busMy father unwraps a birthday present and it is a tape dispenser for his desk. It is heavy and rounded, made of plaster and the pinkish color of my father’s Nash Rambler. A gilded decal on its sides reads “Too Soon Old Yet Too Late Schmart”  and my sister Karen and I think these are the stupidest words we have ever read. We pay attention, because this is the era of our Motto Club, and the decal smacks of an adage we might add to our collection. We don’t.

In fact, I have no idea of the color or what year it really occurred, or even if there was a Rambler, but the form and the mystery of the message has remained intact, and vivid. The dispenser was a present given to my father on what must have been his 50th birthday, just one of many jokes that day. My older sisters prepared a kit for him, in preparation of impending old age, including a faked bottle of Geratol and a gray wig made of an old mop head. It may be that Karen and I even gave him the dispenser ourselves, at the prompting of someone else. His reaction to his presents that day may be why I remember it so well.

He also received a vanity plate for his car, but even that was wrong. It read SD 46, the only number available close to fifty. He used it anyway for years.

He threw a fit,  not seeing any humor in the implication that he was growing old. It was not the reverence he had anticipated. Some sort of unhappy scene ensued, though I don’t remember exactly what he said or did. This birthday is one short chapter of our collective family legend.

My Pop would have celebrated his 97th birthday today, and even though he’s gone, I think that kit must have served him well, because he lived to just before his 88th birthday, and had no gray hair. He’d been active, done whatever he pleased until a couple of months before he died.

Memories linger. The saying on the tape dispenser’s side plagued me for years, until the approach of my own impending old age some time in my fifties. One day its meaning came to me with the clarity of a fog horn. So true, so true, I laughed. Too late. too late to make use of it now.

© 2012, Jennifer Pierce


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