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Tue, May 21

Column: Birthday gifts ought to be about things they love

Is age really just a number? If it is, then why is my number feeling a little too high? I know I'm getting old, because I tried to ignore my last birthday. My husband, daughters and grandsons wouldn't let me, but midway through the cake and the singing, I was reminded how sweet a birthday celebration can be! So what if the years seem to fly by - cake and candles seem to compensate.

Do you look forward to your next birthday? My mother will soon turn 90 and she doesn't seem too thrilled. Actually, she hasn't been excited about having a birthday for the last 30 years. She claims that only children should have them, that they come around too quickly and that they seem to spoil an otherwise perfectly good day. She definitely dislikes celebrations and doesn't want a cake, but she does expect acknowledgement on that "special day."

My mother claims that as soon as people start getting old, they receive the same kind of gifts that infants do - pajamas, nightgowns, slippers and robes. (What am I to do with the plush terrycloth robe I bought for her?) She says that gifts for "old people" have some connection to bedtime and imply that all an elderly person can do is lay around. I asked her what she would like for her birthday and she replied, "whatever you think is fitting . . as long as it's not an old lady gift." Help! I've been a basket case ever since. What the heck should I get her?

Perhaps we sometimes need to adjust our images of our parents and grandparents. As they age, they may become less than robust, possibly even frail, but a gift should not be limited to the dreariness of growing old. I do get my mother's point. Why should a life well lived be celebrated with a bathrobe? Yikes, is that the best we can do?

At a recent garage sale in Prescott, an elderly woman came charging at me when I picked up a pair of tap-dancing shoes that were lying on a table with a price tag on them. She was mortified that her granddaughter had put them out for sale. "These shoes were the last gift that my late husband got me for my 75th birthday," the woman said as she took the shoes out of my hand. "He knew how I loved to dance," she sighed, shoes clutched to her chest.

That's it! Gifts are small tokens of appreciation for the things that we love! There are a thousand items that we could use, that might come in handy, that will save us time and energy, but nothing says, "you're special" like a pair of black patent leather tap shoes with silk ribbon ties. Who cares if they are never used? Our collection of personal "treasures" will probably not be bought at a department store. They will come from the thoughtfulness and intimacy of someone who loves (or loved) us and took the time to say so in some heart-felt way.

My father wrote my mother a poem one year for her birthday and she has it framed, hanging on her bedroom wall. My father has passed on, but his words to her are like quiet reassurances that keep reminding her of the life they shared together. Sometimes a gift can remind us of our best and brightest moments. If the lady in Prescott holds on to her tap shoes, it's not because she's dancing every day. They are the simple and profound remembrance that her husband knew what mattered. This is when the giving (and receiving) is splendid!

Yes, I can think of a few things that my mother might like for her birthday: a World War II bomber jacket, because she has always loved to fly; a potted cactus, since she is "amazed" that something so thorny can blossom so beautifully; a good set of binoculars, to help her keep track of her beloved little squirrels and birds.

Maybe she'd like a compass. I found one at a specialty shop; gold with precision works, boxed in a black velvet case. She sometimes says that she feels "lost" since my father's death. Maybe the best gift is the one that symbolizes that we can navigate through each day, safely to our future, a small reminder that we can find our way. Is it "fitting?" I'll let my mother decide. Is age just a number? You decide.

Judy Bluhm is a writer and author who lives in Skull Valley. Have a comment or a story? Email Judy at


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