Birthday Presence

by

 

Tonight I opened the hinged wooden box on my dresser and dropped a solid white glass marble and a 2003 copper penny into it. The two items found their own spots among the collection in the small pine container.  They joined a menagerie of keepsakes including a rusted gate hinge, a quartz rock, a hand-forged nail, a triplet of brown acorns attached at the stem, a brass button with an anchor embossed on it, a heart shaped rock,  and a small scrap of blue paper folded in fourths. I smiled at the contents.  If the house should catch fire, and my family and animals were safe outside, I’d grab this box second only to the photographs of my children.  

I’ve known Bruce for thirty-three of my fifty birthdays. As I sat in a hotel bed this morning, sipping the cup of coffee he brought me, I tried to think of the birthday presents he’s given me over the years.  I can’t remember a single wrapped gift placed in my hand or on a table in front of me. Bruce hasn’t even presented me with the proverbial vacuum cleaner that women complain about.  He’s not one for fancy trimmings, romantic gestures, or grand hoopla.  What he does, is proclaim a rousing “Happy Birthday,” and then, he gives up his whole day to me.

This year I wanted to go to Chincoteague, to spend the weekend of my birthday walking the grounds of the wildlife refuge, feeling that ever-present wind blow through my hair. I wanted to take as many photographs as the memory card could hold, and wander the island thrift stores in search of a good book to read. I didn’t want to cook. We packed the car and left early Friday morning. We didn’t come back until tonight.  

When I was a little girl, I remember making wishes on my birthday candles. This year, fifty candles would cover the entire cake top. Even at my age, I still make birthday wishes.  When I think back on it, I’ve rarely wished for things, even when I was very young. What I mostly wished for was the presence of someone I loved, or the presence of someone who would love me.  

Saturday we woke early and rode over to our half acre lot. I pulled out the folding chair, and sat at the edge of Big Glade Creek, reading Out of Africa while Bruce ran the weed eater for the final time this year. Canada Geese honked overhead in their migration south, ripples stirred across the top of the water and the few leaves left on the trees rustled in the breeze. I smelled wood smoke in the cool air.  I didn’t hear Bruce come up behind me, but I felt his presence.  “Hold out your hand and close your eyes,” he said.

I did. When I opened my eyes again, there was a round white glass marble there.

“I think it’s a pearl,” he said laughing and bending to kiss my cheek.

“First real pearl I’ve ever gotten,” I said, admiring my gift.

“Must have come out of an oyster in this very creek,” he said. “I found it a few feet from here.”

I put it in the pocket of my jeans. Bruce went back to work on the broom sage, and I went back to reading.

That same evening, we walked the beach of Assateague, picking up and admiring shells. I was turning a conch over in my hand, watching the light play off  its pink iridescent wet underside, when Bruce bent down and picked up a shiny copper disk in the surf.  “Look,” he said, handing it to me, “pirate treasure.”

“2003,” I said, holding the penny up close to my bifocals. “Some of Jack Sparrow’s booty maybe, but not Black Beard’s.”

Bruce shrugged his shoulders. “Treasure’s treasure,” he said. “Doesn’t matter where it comes from.”

I put the penny in my pocket with the white marble. We walked on, continuing to search the shoreline, stopping to watch a boy skip shells off the waves, and another learn to fly a kite.

Tonight when I opened the treasure box on my dresser and dropped my two new gifts inside, I glanced at the other things housed there, each one special,  each one given to me by a man who doesn’t use pretty paper or ribbon to wrap his gifts to me. He wraps them in memories.

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6 Responses to “Birthday Presence”

  1. OldMack Says:

    Happy Birthday, Dawn
    Nice story. Here’s what was running through my head as I read:

    • train-whistle Says:

      thank you Mack. I love Sinatra, always thought I was born in the wrong era. Thanks for the link, I’d never heard this song before. Glad I conjured some memories for you too!

  2. Doris Says:

    If I were into men… I’d try to steal Bruce from you. What a great birthday. May you celebrate at least 57 more.

  3. Curly Says:

    Happy Birthday Train!

    Hey we’re the same age.

    Beautiful reflection. I have a good view of the island reading you. Thanks for the journey to that place. And I’ve read that there is world-class surf fishing there. Big amberjacks. True?

    And, hello Mack. Still looking for time to talk boats with you.

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