Yesterday, I went to Portland-town to meet my daughter Shannon and our friend Kate for yet another birthday celebration. Man oh man do I love birthdays. Not for me the slinking into the corner as I get older, refusing to celebrate the passing of the years. I have no problem telling people my age—I’ll be 54 on Thursday—and especially after last year’s bout with breast cancer, I feel very grateful to still be around. As my book-group buddy Mona Baker has put it, growing old is a privilege, not a right.
Also, being such a homebody, it was a treat go to the “big city.” I parked my car some distance from the restaurant and took such pleasure in the sights and sounds of Portland—the tall stone buildings, the shops, the blue sky above, and the smells of coffee and food mingling with the smell of the dusty street. And the people—so many people!—some dressed in smart dark suits; a pretty young woman wearing short shorts and what in my day we would have called “shit kickers”; two ragged people—also young—on a bench; a little dog lolling outside a shop. All belonged to the life of this small city.
Shannon and Kate were waiting for me in The Corner Room, a compact but cozy restaurant specializing in tasty Italian food. I had been looking forward to trying their eggplant Parmesan sandwich, but for some reason they were out of the ingredients. So I chose the prosciutto panino, and it was very good indeed. Since it was my birthday, I allowed myself a side order of fries, hand-cut but disappointingly lukewarm. Nevertheless, I ate them all.
There were more presents—a subscription to Cook’s Illustrated magazine from Shannon and a beautiful glass bowl made from recycled glass from Kate as well as a little bluebird for my bird collection.
A note about presents: Over the past few years, my husband, Clif, and I have made a real effort to limit the amount of “stuff” that we buy. (If you came into our home you’d never know it, but that’s because, as I like to joke, our house is like a black hole—what comes in doesn’t go out.) Our decision to reduce the amount of stuff we buy is both a financial one and a philosophical one. With Earth’s limited resources and an ever-growing population, we feel as though we should live as lightly as possible.
But here’s an unexpected bonus—when you don’t buy very much for yourself, you really, really appreciate the presents you receive. While I realize this is not true for everyone, affluence and excessive shopping can combine to produce a jaded attitude toward presents. I have seen it in some people who have everything they could possibly want and are therefore hard to please. In our more affluent days, I don’t think I was ever jaded, but when I was shopping frequently, getting new things was not as special as it is now.
Does it really need to be said that the best presents are love and friendship from family and friends? Sure, it does. In short, I am thankful for all presents, tangible and intangible.