When I was six, a chilly February day rolled around here in Central New York. It was Saturday, dump day.
Back then we lived in the country (ie, out of town) and didn't have garbage pick-up. So once a week my dad and I would go to the town dump. We'd throw all the week's trash in the truck and trundle out of the driveway, up the back roads, and arrive at the dump, which was on a hill outside of town. I had specific dump clothes, raggedy old things that, in my six-year-old fashion mind, seemed appropriate for an afternoon involving garbage.
On that particular chilly February day I recall dad asking, "Hey Stick, you wanna go to the dump?" Stick was my childhood nickname, short for Stick-in-the-Mud (I think dad was implying with this moniker that I was stubborn but to be honest I don't know for sure because I never thought to ask). Naturally I said yes, LOVED going to the dump and certainly loved spending a few hours of one-on-one Dad and Stick time. I put on my dump clothes and off we went.
I don't remember anything about the dump that day. Don't remember if we stopped for a bite at the local diner afterwards, which we sometimes did. Don't remember anything, in fact, except returning home and walking into the living room to find a dozen little girls in multi-colored party dresses yelling "Happy Birthday!" It seems the folks had planned a little surprise party, always a lovely idea for birthday girls. Unless, that is, the birthday girl had been to the dump.
There are several photos of me that day, but the one that stands out is of a short child in plaid pants, a striped shirt, and a ratty knit cap covering tangled hair scowling into the camera, clearly unhappy about arriving at her own birthday event in dump clothes. Even though I ended up with a new bicycle that year, I remember thinking, "For crying out loud, couldn't Mom have suggested I wear better clothes when I left the house since she knew I was coming back to a party?"
Dump days are long gone, 50+ years gone in fact. Surprise parties are few and far between at this point, and that's probably a good thing because I've never been accused of being a fashion plate. Still, birthdays are special times. An opportunity to reflect on the year before, to take stock, to ponder "Wow, I made it to another one." I think about my mom and dad on my birthday, and how those sweet people plotted together to get little Kathy out of the house all those years ago, albeit to the dump, to set up for the big number six. How behind the scenes they tiptoed around putting bows on a bike and sending invitations and blowing up balloons and making a cake. I was a blessed kid.
Another chilly February is here. Last night, which also happened to be my birthday eve, a gang of old and still good friends arrived at my house for a class reunion committee meeting. One of those friends, whose been my pal since seventh grade, brought with her a surprise cake. Candles were lit and they sang happy birthday, followed by toasts and merriment. Cards have been flooding my mailbox this week and I awoke today, at 58, with dozens and dozens of salutations on Facebook, by text, and by phone, a very nice way to start a birthday morning.
Sometimes, as life takes its shots, it's hard to see many positives. We just have to refocus, I think, look left instead of right, squint a little, and notice that even if you're wearing dump clothes there's an awful lot of good going on all around.
Blessed child. Blessed adult. I have the best friends in the world and am glad to be spending another year letting them know how much I love them.