I met a sweet little baby named Barbara the other day. Just kidding. There are no babies named Barbara. Name fashion has moved on. So where are the Barbaras, the Brendas, the Donnas, the Connies; where are the Pattys, Peggys, Kathys and Susans? I can speak for one small segment of the Barbaras, at least: we’re turning 50. Our AARP welcome letters have been delivered.
I’ve always liked having my birthday at the end of May. For one thing, it’s a gorgeous time of year. For another, it often falls within or alongside the extended Memorial Day holiday weekend. When I was a kid, my birthday often came around during that exciting, fun last week of school, a time full of field trips, parties and other breaks from convention, all even more joyous because spring was unabashedly breaking out all around. Add presents and cake to that, top it off with being an only child, and you get a full-blown, “hooray, it’s my birthday” mentality.
By the time I was in my 30s, Chris and I were losing some dear friends. Over a period of just a few years, more than a dozen people we loved, people around our own ages, died. Forged by those terrible losses was the attitude I still hold today: I will be grateful for any birthday I get. I will not shrink from birthdays or be ashamed about my age.
I am awed by the strangeness of being here, breathing air and taking up space on the busy roads of Salt Lake City, when so many people Chris and I loved are no longer able to do so.
Then, at 47 I got breast cancer. There’s nothing like 16 weeks of chemo to make you grateful for a birthday, no matter which one. So now, in the third-to-last day of my 40s, I am being brave about turning 50.
My mom’s generation was filled with women named Agnes, Maude, Mildred, Alice and Eunice. Those women were typically unwilling to divulge their age and they were somehow conditioned to think of birthdays as unpleasant events. While some of the names from that generation are back in vogue now, I hope the little Millies and Alices and Maes will not repurpose the old attitudes about birthdays.
I understand why people freak out. Birthdays remind us of our own aging, a thing no one wants to dwell upon. And for good reason. For example, now that I’m about to be 50, I have made it to the point where I have accumulated a lot of great stories to tell. But now that I’m about to be 50, I can’t remember what they are.
Birthdays represent the loss of a piece of our future as it gets gobbled up by our present. There’s no cheery wrapping paper that will take care of that. No wonder some people hide from birthdays.
I think the best way to cope with something scary like turning 50 is to spend it with friends, laughing and enjoying each other. My choice for a birthday is to gather together a group of nice people and have a party. My friends Adri and Jean are making that happen for me this weekend and I love them like crazy for doing it.
By the time anyone reads this column, the candles will be melted down, covered in frosting and resting in the trash can. The big five-oh will have happened. With a little luck, I will be able to stay true to my goal of being grateful for a birthday and fondly remembering friends I miss so much.
Barb Guy is a regular contributor to these pages.