Thursday, January 31, 2008

Reflections on My Birthday

Today is my 44th birthday, and my first thought this morning (after my kids had jumped on me in the bed) was a realization that I'm double my age when I graduated from college. For some reason that's a depressing thought. Twenty-two was certainly a good year, particularly the months spent at Oxford studying Tudor/Stuart history and literature. (I can't imagine a more idyllic setting to spend a lifetime.)

And I guess the natural thing to do on one's birthday - especially after 30 or 40, depending on one's thoughts about age and self-imposed milestones - is to grouse about "getting older" and "time passing so quickly," etc. I know my mother, who recently turned 73, and my grandmother, who celebrated her 94th, were lamenting the passage of time and its seemingly accelerating pace. But as my grandfather often said, "It beats the alternative."

There's a great photo in our family archives from this day in 1964 (and I'm sorry that I don't have a scanned copy of it to post). My mother is standing in a near furniture-less den, moments before going to the hospital to give birth. She has this slightly worried look on her face, and I'm sure she's thinking, "Take the damn picture, Ed." (To this day my father takes photos at a glacial pace, even with the various automatic settings on digital cameras. Having spent most of his life taking pictures with film cameras, he naturally wants to make sure that everything is going to work correctly, even if the work is largely done for him by the microchip that drives the camera.) In the 1960s husbands generally didn't accompany their wives into the delivery room as I did, sporting a surgical gown, rubber gloves, and scissors to cut the umbilical cords of my two sons. Like an old sitcom dad, my father sat in the waiting room. According to my mother, however, he didn't pace the floor or fidget or page through magazines in a nervous state. When the hospital staff came to deliver the good news, he was asleep. Too funny. I realize now, in the telling of this story, that this is just another example of my father remaining cool under pressure. (Perhaps a bit too cool under these circumstances. I could not have slept during the delivery of my kids.)

The great thing about the setting of the photograph is that my parents still live in that house, 44 years later. It gives one a solid sense of place and family within the context of a life that is beset by constant change. (My grandmother has lived in the same house since 1951, just minutes from my parents. The close proximity of my grandparents certainly made my childhood more fun.)

Reading an article in The Wilson Quarterly last week, I learned that this kind of rootedness is atypical of American society in the 20th century, particularly since 1946. Europe, not having experienced the housing boom witnessed by the U.S. after World War II, is still a society in which people tend to stay put, maintaining connections to extended family and community on a more frequent basis. Conversely, according to the article the average American moves approximately 11 times during one's adult life. It seems we're driven - literally, given our obsession with cars - to move to bigger and better homes, thinking that fulfillment of the American dream is always just one house away. (This near universal belief that all are somehow entitled to own a McMansion fueled the recent housing boom and the underlying sub-prime mortgage crisis. That crisis may yet signal the death knell of the American dream for many citizens.)

Ok, so this doesn't really have anything to do with my birthday. But it gives you an idea of how my brain is always running down these side streets to check out something new or different. And I guess that habit does say something about where I am at 44: still curious, ready to learn new things, analyze the world around me, and offer my two cents, whether it's wanted or not.


One Wink at a Time said...

Brian, it is with the warmest thoughts that I come to wish you a very, very Happy Birthday. I hope it's a great day for a great guy.

My parents moved from the huge, rambling old farmhouse I grew up in a few years after I left the proverbial nest. They moved into a modern ranch-style house with little of the charm and character and none of the memories of the old house. I felt robbed of a wonderful part of my life. "Going home" has never felt the same. One could surmise that a Home is what you make it or whatever but still, it's never the same. You are so very fortunate to have been able to hold onto your childhood home. And I know you know that.

BooCat said...

BrianC, the Oxford Don. Wow! That was an impressive bit of information.
Happy Birthday to you and many happy returns.
Congratulations for realizing what good fortune you have had by being born into such a solid and well-rooted family. That is rare indeed in this mobile society. Our family is far-flung and the ones who were rooted to the spot have now died and with them that feeling of being connected. You are a truly blessed man.

Isabel said...


My birthday wish to you is that you are still as curious at 88 as you are now at 44 ;)

jblack designs said...

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, young man. It's all relative, isn't it? I'm with your dad on this one.

FYI: My family had lived in 9 houses by the time I was 18. Counting temporary homes, the total was 12. What can I say? We moved from N.C. to GA to Japan to Hawaii to TX. Since I turned 18 and moved out? I have lived in 8 kerchillion (as Laurie Anderson would say) apartments, duplexes, and houses, in a variety of TX cities and even in a VW on an extended road trip. ;-)

I bought my first house at 40, and on my 3rd (at 43) I decided to stay put for a while--for my daughter. When I'd been there 4.5 years, it was longer than I'd lived anywhere in my life. I stayed there 7 years. It felt like a lifetime.

But my grandparents lived in the same drafty, huge, old, old house in a tiny town in N.C. my whole life (until my gmother moved to a nursing home when I was in my late 30's). Now that was home.

I hope you continue your curiousity. Some of us are loving hearing about it. And seeing it, too.

Barbara said...

I decided to take some time and wander through your archive, see what I missed all these months, see some more of your photos. The birthday photo is very cute ... I also enjoy reading the candid memories.

For my birthday about five weeks ago I gave myself my blog, which has now grown to two and, perhaps, on to a third for photos. (Haven't decided just yet.)

I defy the statistic about 11 moves in a lifetime - we're headed for #14 - but it's the nature of his jobs, not a search for something to fill any emptiness. Some things I notice about all the moving are 1)I really pay attention to where I am, see it for its features, and 2)I tend to keep only what's necessary - mostly:)

One of Augusta's best features is a $2 movie theatre, and I think that's where we're headed today. It used to be $1, but still... The movies aren't first run, but not many of the first-run movies are worth $6+ ...